In his best-selling book, “Successful Aging”, Daniel J. Levitin, Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Neuroscience at McGill University (your writer’s alma mater), shows how the brain is formed and how it changes, in surprisingly positive ways, as we age.
The author notes that Freud said that the two most important things in life are healthy relationships and meaningful work.
Socialization is crucial to maintaining our mental acuity. “Navigating the complex mores and potential pitfalls of dealing with another human being, someone who has their own needs, opinions, and sensitivities, is about the most complex thing we humans can do. It exercises vast neural networks, keeping them tuned up, in shape, and ready to fire. In a good conversation, we listen, we empathize. And empathy is healthful, activating networks throughout the brain.”
If working is not a viable option then volunteering reduces mental decline. “Volunteering at a local organization, community center, or hospital can have all the benefits of continuing to work: a sense of self-worth and accomplishment, and the daily interaction with others that causes the brain to light up. The data reveal that volunteering is associated with reduced symptoms of depression, better self-reported health, fewer functional limitations, and lower mortality.”
The author concludes “Gratitude is an important and often overlooked emotion and state of mind. Gratitude causes us to focus on what’s good about our lives rather than what’s bad shifting our outlook to the positive…psychology’s focus on disorders and problems of adjustment was ignoring much of what makes life worth living. Positive psychology has found that people who practice gratitude feel happier.”
Please note that a science background is helpful in understanding the four hundred pages that make up “Successful Aging”.