The aging process involves a progressive deterioration of the body, but paradoxically not the emotions. Although aging often is characterized by bereavement and loneliness, in fact the elderly have less negative emotions than younger people. Mindfulness is another positive characteristic of aging, with the elderly higher in mindfulness than younger people.
In today’s Research News article “Mindful attention and awareness mediate the association between age and negative affect.”
the relationship between the lower negative emotions and higher mindfulness in the elderly is explored. It is shown that the increased mindfulness is the mediator between aging and the lower negative affect. This mediation is independent of the individual’s personality or their current quality of life. So, the fact that in aging mindfulness increases appears to explain why there a fewer negative emotions.
Why would mindfulness increase with age? As we get older in many ways life gets less complicated. Our children are grown and on their own, reducing parental worries and financial stresses. Our jobs have been mastered and our careers are either stabilized or over, reducing the fear and anxiety over competence, advancement, etc. not to mention the stress of occasional relocation. Also, there are fewer demands and our lives become less busy. In addition, our relationships have stabilized with less interpersonal friction.
Of course, new and different problems and worries emerge as we age, particularly revolving around health, but on balance, there are less things to occupy our minds with the elderly. This frees the mind to focus more on the present moment, making us more mindful.
Why would mindfulness be associated with lower levels of the negative emotions of fear, shame, hostility, nervousness, and upset. Most of these negative emotions involve thoughts about the past or the future. Fear, nervousness, and shame are concerns about the future, while hostility and upset result from past events. Obviously if our awareness is focused on the present moment, removing ruminations about the past and projections into the future, then we’ve removed the sources of the negative emotions, producing much lower levels.
Another equally viable explanation is a reverse causation. That is that the association between mindfulness and lower negative emotions is due not to mindfulness lowering these emotions, but to lower levels of these emotions increasing mindfulness. Indeed, all of the life changes and simplifications reviewed above would be expected to lead to lower levels of negative emotions. Without fear, upset, nervousness, shame or hostility the mind is liberated to be more engaged in what is occurring right now, ergo increased mindfulness.
Regardless of the explanation, aging is not necessarily a negative experience. There are obviously negative things occurring in aging particularly with bereavement, loneliness, and health issues. But, there are very positive aspects to aging including less negative feelings and more present moment awareness.
So, relax be mindful and enjoy the positive sides of aging.