2014 & the Age of the Sage
A new year has dawned and for me a new decade. I’ve just had a significant birthday which has got me reflecting on my XX years of life. I’m not saying which birthday it is as more ageist parts of society still like to taunt women over their decades of life. Indeed another Miriam recently took one of my former employers to an industrial tribunal over its discrimination against women of a certain age.I appear to have the good fortune of appearing younger than my biological age. Maybe it’s a consequence of my immersion in the science of well-being – I’ve noticed that many of my positive psychology colleagues have a similar vitality. Or maybe it’s nature rather than nurture and I’ve been blessed with youthful genes. It’s not all positive though and the Dorian Gray in the attic is in the form of hypothyroidism and a tendency to heightened blood pressure.
As I approached this particular birthday I spoke to female friends about their transition into the Age of the Sage. We don’t tend to hear much about the positive qualities that come with age such as wisdom – Western society tends to undervalue its benefits. It may be that I’m slowing down physically but I’m certainly speeding up psychologically. In any case one advantage that comes with slowing down is that you’re more able to savour the joys of life. Men are just about allowed to get away with becoming older but not women. So to redress the balance I’ve come up with these ‘wise women ways for well-being’ that sum up the wisdom of these sages and draw on my experience as a positive psychologist.
Health creation: Health is to the body as happiness is to the mind. Your happiness rises as your health grows. Your psychological well-being is built on the foundations of physical well-being. In the age of wisdom it’s no longer about repairing your health when you fall ill, the older you get the more important it is to engage in practices that build your psychological and physical health. So that might be using positive psychology techniques like savouring or applying your strengths to build your positivity or practices like yoga and pilates to keep you healthy in the body. Whether it’s for the mind or body, the practices you do now will protect your health for the rest of your life.
Nourish yourself: It’s well known that food affects mood. In the Age of the Sage it’s about quality rather than the quantity. Savouring a square of exquisite dark chocolate is more satisfying than a bar of the cheap milky stuff. One glass of good fizz rather than a bottle of additive-laden plonk. Interestingly it’s the reverse when it comes to positive emotions – quantity over quality. A succession of mildly positive experiences will build your resilience to cope positively with life’s difficulties and help you to flourish.
The precursor to nourishing yourself is to detox from the junk of modern life. This isn’t just about nutrition-light fast food but also the diet of negativity and trivia that’s fed to us through the media. A broadsheet regime of bad news raises the level of stress and negative emotions like fear. What’s wrong is a much stronger energy than what’s right, so we’re less able to notice the more positive aspects of life. The tabloid diet of celebrity trivia diverts us from more important matters in our own lives and the wider world. Social media is great new form of communication but it is addictive and can shorten your attention span. I love a pithy blog (3 ways to do this, 5 tips to do that) but it can prevent you going more deeply into the subject and seeing the bigger picture.
The path of least resistance. I spent a lot of my time doing things the hard way. ‘Ease’ is not a dirty word, indeed it can be a sign of being on the right path. I often find that when I’m engaged in a struggle it’s because something’s wrong and I need to be flexible and change my approach. When I follow the path of least resistance often things seem to flow well. One of my lightbulb moments came when I realised that my default setting is as a ‘maximiser’ rather than a ‘satisficer’. Maximisers want the best so they do plenty of research and agonise over choosing the best option. They get the best bargains in shops but their well-being is often lower than that of satisficers who make do with the first thing that meets their minimum criteria. The 21st century is the era of multi-tasking so preserve your mental health by giving up on the perfectionism and asking yourself if it is ‘good enough’. One of my friends, a professor of health psychology says that satisficing is the only way he manages his workload and he’s seen maximisers become sick with stress in their striving for the best.
Respond rather than react. In this era of instant communication, the instinct is to react immediately to every email, tweet or post. But when you react, you’re acting from the grip of an emotional response. Wait a while until that emotion has subsided and your response might be different and altogether more considered.
Raise the tone rather than lowering it. As I enter a new decade I’m more than ever aware of my purpose in life to put people on the path to happiness. To bring light into darkness. So rather than meeting people in their misery, I see the role of the sage as being to lift them up and strengthen them. “True leaders build men up and then call forth their talents.” As a positive psychologist I see this as the purpose of the work– to build people up so that they flourish. And it’s not only about raising the tone. One thing that all of my wise women friends mentioned is about letting go. Let go of negativity, let go of old hurts and rise, rise, rise above it. Keep your focus on the positive stuff because what you focus on is what you get.
When I think back over my life, the times when I’ve gone wrong is when I’ve ignored my instincts. I read an article recently about women who’ve made it big as entrepreneurs and all of them mention their intuition, something we don’t refer to enough in business. This ability grows stronger with age so why not use the power of your intuition, which is a form of wisdom. Happy 2014 and may it be a positive one.