Eat Twinkies, But Only With Friends

by John Schuster on August 28, 2018

in 70th Year

Making space for the Good People

Think of a person you know who “never got over” a bad event. Conversely think of those who somehow powered or muddled through big difficulties and declare they are the better for it. Why do bad things dent or even crush some and not others? This is the complex question that drives the large body of research on resilience we can now tap.

George Vaillant, MD, has something to say on this question, especially for the second-half-of-life crowd. As a keeper of one of the largest data bases of peoples’ lives over many decades, he posits a major idea: it is less the bad things that happen to you that determines your life, it is more the good people that happen to you.

Think of your own life here. Who are the good people who “happened” to you and what corner did they help you turn? There may well be many.

Happier Aging by welcoming others in.

This hopeful idea came to Vaillant after studying many a maturing person’s life and assessing the later life decades, as opposed to the mid-life ones. Those “vigorously adapted to aging” are the happy souls who were harvesting the loves and lessons from the good people who came into their lives.

His argument is convincing that happier maturing years are ahead for anyone who savors and dwells on the good relationships from family members to friends to old teachers to bosses, even—you name it. All of these connections, if long enough and positive enough, can help us dig out of the holes of the “bad things” and either neutralize them or turn them into net positives. We may be able to do this all by ourselves, but it is much more likely to happen if we have a caring other who is around at the right times to lend us a hand, listen, model, support or inspire us to move ahead.

My wife Patricia is the major good person happening to me in my life. She showed up in my 30’s and has kept showing up to help me get through my “dangers, toils and snares,“ to borrow from Amazing Grace, again and again.

More recently, in my late 60’s, I’ve befriended gerontologist Tom Cole in Houston. He came into my life with the gifts of life-long learning and conversation and to help me learn about aging in ways I did not know.

One teaching from Tom is that the aging population in the U.S. lost its respected place in the life cycle when the industrial/Victorian age took off. Its over-emphasis on the ideals of human productivity made mid-life values of success and effectiveness (emphasized over relationships) the measure for all of our years, youth and old codgers included. In the 170 years since, latter-life adults have still yet to recover from this loss of place and respect.

Isolation is one of the major bad things that can happen at any stage of life, but especially in the slower years of later lifers. But here is the antidote from Vaillant, and what we need to remember—“it is better for our health to eat Twinkies with our friends than broccoli by ourselves.“ Our relationships can literally save us and keep us healthy—that is what Vaillant is after.

I turn 70 in about two months. My 70th year blog project nears its final phase. I’ve got people to meet and friends and co-workers to cherish. And it’s time to take a walk with Patricia.

Make plenty of space for those good people.

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