In late August of 1989, I opened my tiny mailbox at the University of Tennessee Knoxville and found a Newsweek magazine (remember those?) I wasn’t expecting to receive. The magazine turned out to be a gift from my grandfather; he’d signed me up for a four-year subscription. I share this story to introduce you to the man who first exposed me to the impact of lifelong learning, the power of positive perceptions, and the dividends of giving back through volunteerism.
While I did not know it at the time, this gift was so much more than access to weekly current events. It was a spark – to ignite within me a desire to learn from others and the world around me.
The Power of Positive Perceptions
One’s view on aging is an excellent example of the impact of self perceptions. Age-related stereotypes continue to grow in relevance and heavily influence how we view ourselves now and the future version of ourselves. Individuals with a positive view of aging and who look forward to those later years of life tend to engage in proactive, healthy behaviors. It is the well-known Henry Ford adage of a self-fulfilling prophecy: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.”
Research shows that adults with a positive view of aging have:
- better physical wellbeing
- an increased lifespan, by as much as 7.5 years
- better brain function and a higher life satisfaction
- lower rates of depression and illness
- better coping skills and resiliency
The Dividends of Volunteerism
The health and psychological benefits of volunteering are well researched and documented. Those who donate their time and talent experience lower levels of depression, increased self-confidence, and a greater sense of purpose. Volunteering counteracts the effects of stress and supports good physical health and mental wellbeing.
But the multiplier here – the larger return on your time investment – is in doing both. Combining a bullish view of aging with the healthy perks associated with volunteering can create a positive cycle of increased longevity, health, and happiness. So, where to start?
Did you know that AmeriCorps, the national volunteer organization, has a program designated for older adults? AmeriCorps Seniors is tailored to adults aged 55 and up who are looking to define their “second act” through volunteer work. Through three programs – RSVP, the Foster Grandparent Program, and the Senior Companion Program – there are volunteer opportunities that align with any interest.
AmeriCorps Seniors allows you to pursue things that pique your curiosity and stay involved while giving back to your community. That sounds like a perfect recipe for living a positive life, if you ask me.
Be a Role Model for Positive Aging
In a world with seemingly endless positive advice, role models, or influencers for the young, there is a real opportunity for those of us in our prime: the opportunity to counter the negative stereotypes by having fun, being content with who we are, and giving back.
My grandfather taught me so much about living with a positive outlook. He woke up singing and ended each day with a walk after dinner. He loved games, never met a stranger, valued family togetherness, was always reading, and never said “no” to helping others.
At age 82, after he finally “retired” and moved into an independent living community, my grandfather started and led a weekly group conversation on current events that was extremely popular with the other residents. He gave them a reason to make new friends and an opportunity to learn something new. He lived life to the fullest and encouraged others to do the same.
If you’re looking for ways to share your time with others, AmeriCorps Seniors makes it easy to add volunteering to your journey. Take a look at the variety of options available and see how easy it is to get started.