What does it take to get you out of bed in the morning? Your job, getting the kids off to school, an early morning run, a project you want to undertake, or something you’re looking forward to doing that day? Any of the above, including being just plain useful to others, can be considered good for one’s health. The main thing is that you have a reason, a purpose, for getting out there and living life.
With this in mind, I found these words on a decorative plaque in a gift shop both amusing and thought-provoking. “Youth looks ahead. Old age looks back. Middle age looks worried.” Apart from producing a good chuckle, it got me thinking. Why would youth look ahead, old age look back and middle age look worried? And what effect did their outlook on life, have on their health?
Well, let’s take me for example. When I was a teenager, I remember that it was all about living in the moment, learning and doing new and interesting things. This included pursuing a singing career, dating, travelling, socialising and generally keeping busy. I happily got out of bed each day. The journey was in front of me, and it was exciting to contemplate the directions I might take. Did I have time to be sick? No way! And I still don’t. That’s because there’s a spiritual impetus that continues to underpin my enthusiasm and optimism for expecting to have real life-adventures.
Optimism, say scientists, is good for our health. Contemplating what good things life holds, gives us a reason to get up and do things. This is beneficial for our mental wellbeing. The good news is that such a state of mind isn’t confined to the young. We can be enthusiastic and optimistic at any age, and, be healthy.
By comparison with my youthful look-ahead outlook, an older family member who’d lived through two world wars and the depression, felt he’d reached a stage in his life where there was no reason to get up in the mornings. He gradually spent more and more time lying in bed. With nothing to look forward to anymore, his zest for life decreased, while health problems increased. He became sick and finally succumbed to the illness. It was very sad.
“Agedness” could be described as no longer having a purpose in life. When this happens there can be a tendency to nostalgically live in the past, even recalling occasions for sadness and regret. Such negative emotions can undermine health, say researchers in a recent study. If this is so, then one way perhaps for us to regain our life-spark and thus improve our health, could be to cease dwelling on past hurts or mistakes. To learn from them, forgive ourselves if necessary, then drop the incidents from thought. There is a Scriptural basis for doing this that many people have found helpful. Such action is particularly relevant to the middle-age group.
A friend of mine in that age category, constantly worries over life’s missed opportunities. He wonders if he’ll have enough money when he retires, and what his life-expectancy might be. He has doubts about his health holding up into the future. He seems to fit the common perception of someone having a ‘midlife crisis’ – a term coined in 1965 by Elliott Jaques to describe adults who come to realize the time they may have left in their life.
To overcome mid-life despondency, or to re-ignite a flickering or seemingly extinguished ‘pilot light’, you’ll find loads of suggestions on the web. However, there is one way that is gaining recognition and its basis is spiritual in nature. Research is showing that church attendance can lead to an increase in longevity. It can also help us get back that mental buoyancy and energy to live each day to its fullest. As Dr. Daniel Hall, a University of Pittsburgh Medical Center physician stated in his study, “Our culture, particularly our medical culture, tends to have a strong secular bias. This data shows in ways that are unquestionable that there’s something going on in people’s beliefs and practices that makes them healthier. To ignore this phenomenon would be foolish.”
Now while I’m not suggesting that everyone should attend church, such studies do highlight the connection between spirituality and good health. Finding and keeping a strong sense of purpose in life can be enhanced by religious practices, beliefs and prayer. When a person bands together with other like-minded individuals, they derive mutual support, have a common goal for working together and this provides them with an impetus for living. The upshot of such spiritual activity, as research shows, is that people with a divine spark live longer, healthier lives. They’ve found a reason to get out of bed and enjoy each day with inspiration, energy and conviction.