Opinion

Over the hill has an upside | Timi Gustafson

Despite the fact that people live longer and are more active in their later years, aging is still associated with decline, loss, and debilitation. That’s nature’s way, like it or not. But does that mean older folks should despair? Perhaps, but few actually do. In fact, feelings of happiness, or at least contentment, seem to be most common among the maturing crowd.

A possibility may be that older people find it easier to derive pleasure from relatively ordinary experiences such as taking a walk, sharing a meal with loved ones, or pursuing a hobby. Another explanation may be a little bit more complex. In his milestone publication, “A Theory of Human Motivation” (1943), the psychologist Abraham Maslow introduced his now classic theory of “Hierarchy of Needs,” where he distinguished between a number of human needs, reaching from basic survival to self-actualization when nearly all human potential can be realized.

Maslow used a graphic depicting the shape of a pyramid. More basic needs – like food, shelter, health, safety – support higher ones – like self-esteem, respect, creativity, etc. Higher needs cannot be met if there is significant deficiency among the more basic ones. Although he does not explicitly use the term, we can assume that Maslow would consider the quest for happiness as part of the higher needs. It is easy to see that this can only be achieved with time – in other words, with age.

But the hierarchical structure of our needs is not static, but rather is made up of constantly changing priorities. That doesn’t mean everything is relative and therefore meaningless, not even when we look back from long distance. In my own life, I continuously revisit my needs in multiple departments to see if they are sufficiently attended to. That doesn’t mean I have no longer any ambitious goals to pursue or dreams to chase. But I also know how to take a break when the chase is over. And that has its rewards, too.

 

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun,” which is available at amazon.com. timigustafson.com

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