There are 54.1 million people who are 65 or older in the U.S. That number is expected to grow to 80.8 million by 2040 (Administration on Aging).
How many of these individuals are living with passion, purpose and positivity? More than you might think. Oh, the media and cultural myths may have us deteriorating steadily after 65, but according to 2022 research, only 4% of Americans over 65 live in nursing homes, and only 2% live in assisted living facilities. That means fully 94% of Americans over 65 are going about their business, living their lives.
I have been researching active, vibrant seniors in their 70s, 80s, 90s, and 100s since 2016, and much to my surprise and delight, they are everywhere. I should say “we,” not “they,” because at 75, I am a competitive ballroom dancer who started at 70 and found that I am certainly not alone age-wise, even on the competition floor.
So what do these vibrant seniors, whom I call “The Amazings,” have in common? Certainly not ethnicity, educational level, gender, marital status or any of the ordinary demographics. What they have in common are three vital characteristics, what I think of as the pillars of happy healthy longevity: passion, purpose and positivity.
Passion is approaching your chosen hobby, avocation or work, with zeal and enthusiasm. It doesn’t matter if that’s growing tomatoes, volunteering at an animal shelter, running marathons or recording music. Whatever you choose to focus on, do it with passion. Passion is what keeps your life force flowing through you. Passion is what makes doing something worth doing. Passion answers the “do what you love and love what you do” which has brought joy and satisfaction to so many, young and not-so-young.
When you have a passion for something, almost inevitably there will be a purpose attached to it. Purpose can be thought of as a reason for doing something. It can be a goal or a series of goals, but more importantly, it’s what drives one’s determination, the willingness to persist despite the bumps and hurdles along the way.
Take Edith Murway-Traina, who at 100, was declared the oldest competitive powerlifter by the Guinness World Book of Records, lifting weights up to 150 pounds. Edith trains regularly because her passion sustains her through the inevitable challenges. Even more astonishing than her title, is that Edith only started working out once she turned 91. Just in case you thought such feats were reserved for the under-30 set, think again. They are not. The over 600 Amazings I’ve studied are sky-divers, mountain climbers, aerialists and yoga devotees alongside painters, writers, inventors and musicians. Many only found their passion and purpose after retirement.
Positivity, an optimistic and hopeful attitude toward the future, is the foundation of a life of passion and purpose. You won’t engage in something wholeheartedly if you aren’t hopeful or optimistic about the possibility of seeing it through. Whether you actually do or not isn’t relevant. None of us know our expiration date, so it’s hardly worth obsessing over. Amazings proceed under the assumption that they will be able to fulfill their purpose and so are free to enjoy their passion to the hilt.
They push forward despite having had knees, hips and ankles replaced, don’t necessarily have all their limbs or have had cancer or other potentially debilitating conditions. It doesn’t stop them from engaging full-bore in their passions. So can you.
How do you find your passion? You dream, daydream and fantasize about something you’d like to do. Often, it’s something you’ve admired in others, or always wanted to try but didn’t for various reasons. So, try! And if the first endeavor you attempt doesn’t ring your bell, no worries, try something else. Just be sure to stick with whatever your choice for at least a month or so, since it often takes a bit of actual doing before you find your groove.
Purpose follows naturally on the heels of passion. You’ll find that the thing you love doing has built-in goals, and if not, they are easy enough for you to generate, once you get your passion in gear.
Positivity is a must. If you are not naturally an optimistic individual, use affirmations to help you see your chosen activity in a more positive light. Remember the story of the little train making its way up a tall mountain? “I think I can I think I can I think I can” turns into a joyous “I can!” The internet offers a multitude of uplifting websites, posts and podcasts with affirmations available at the click of a button.
Find your passion and go for it. You may not set a Guinness world record, but you’ll live life in ways you never thought possible.
Noelle C. Nelson, Ph.D. is a psychologist and author of over a dozen books including “The Longevity Secret: Why What You Think You Know About Aging Is Wrong and How To Get It Right” (MindLab Publishing). Visit www.noellenelson.com.