Do women embrace aging better than men? Are we happier with our lives and better equipped to handle the myriad changes that life often throws our way? Are we better at digging deeper to our very core to pull out our inner resources for what we truly need as we get older?
According to Dr. Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, a noted Yale professor of psychology and author of "The Power of Women," an article featured in Psychology Today, the answer could be "yes." Dr. Nolen-Hoeksema believes women's lives get better with age, not worse. Rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide in women go down, not up, as we grow older, according to her research, and she contributes that to the natural strengths women possess -coping skills, empathy, ability to listen, patience -which help to tackle new problems and situations that arise as we age. These strengths also give us the courage to pursue new paths.
In the article, Dr. Nolen-Hoeksema states, "Women's full complement of strengths give them the mindset to celebrate older age as a time of joy, love, and fulfillment for all they have worked for and grown to be over their lifetimes."
Based on the research, women over 50 are often better equipped to handle life's increasingly complicated challenges, than men:
Among the older adults, who were facing the adversities that come with aging, the men showed less inclination to use these important coping skills compared to the women. In other words, older women were more likely than older men to tap into their mental, emotional, and relational strengths to deal with adversity, which in turn left them less vulnerable to depression and anxiety in the face of difficulty.
Contrary to what many articles and experts want us to believe, women over 50 tend to find their confidence and increased levels of satisfaction from within. In fact, it seems that even in the face of the media's obsession with youth and beauty, older women place a greater emphasis and pride on their own maturity, experience, and wisdom. But, make no mistake: women over 50 think they're looking pretty good, too: according to Dr. Nolen-Hoeksema's study, women's views of their bodies actually become more positive as they move from their 20s, 30s and 40s, into midlife.
Finding your own inner strength, though, sometimes takes a village and therein lies the #1 reason why women probably age better and more successfully than men:
Women have a remarkable ability to connect, engage, share, and create and maintain solid networks and relationships throughout our lives. This is our greatest strength.
We thrive on the building and nourishing of friendships, and look upon them as an integral part of our ongoing support system, especially when going through tough times (dealing with aging parents, illness, death, and/or loss of job). And, as so many studies and anecdotal evidence have shown, women, once they reach midlife, are more confident in their own personal power and are willing to tap into that power to not only help themselves, but to help others, especially other women. The wonderful thing is that we don't even have to know the other women personally to make and feel a connection. My network of female friends on websites, Facebook, and other social media has grown exponentially because I've been reaching out to other women, and they've been reaching out to me. I've learned so much from all of them, and they continue to enlighten, motivate, and engage me, every day. It's no surprise that Facebook's (and other social media's) fastest growing segment in the United States is women over 50.
It's not just through social media, however, that women excel at connecting. Natural caregivers, women have always embraced the challenge of threading ourselves to our work, families, friends and communities, creating strong and lasting bonds as we forge ahead in life. And, as it turns out, a strong connection to your network of friends has a positive impact on health, which helps us to age well. Last week, a friend sent me this email:
Subject: Schmoozing With Your Girlfriends is Good For Your Health! I just finished taking an evening class at Stanford. The last lecture was on the mind-body connection -the relationship between stress and disease. The speaker (head of psychiatry at Stanford) said, among other things, that one of the best things that a man could do for his health is to be married to a woman whereas for a woman, one of the best things she could do for her health was to nurture her relationships with her girlfriends. At first everyone laughed, but he was serious. Women connect with each other differently and provide support systems that help each other to deal with stress and difficult life experiences. Physically this quality "girlfriend time" helps us to create more serotonin -a neurotransmitter that helps combat depression and can create a general feeling of well-being. Women share feelings whereas men often form relationships around activities. They rarely sit down with a buddy and talk about how they feel about certain things or how their personal lives are going. Jobs? Yes. Sports? Yes. Cars? Yes. Fishing, hunting, golf? Yes. But their feelings? Rarely. Women do it all of the time. We share from our souls with our sisters/mothers, and evidently that is very good for our health. He said that spending time with a friend is just as important to our general health as jogging or working out at a gym. There's a tendency to think that when we are "exercising" we are doing something good for our bodies and when we are hanging out with friends, we are wasting our time and should be more productively engaged -not true. In fact, he said that failure to create and maintain quality personal relationships with other humans is as dangerous to our physical health as smoking! So every time you hang out to schmooze with a gal pal, just pat yourself on the back and congratulate yourself for doing something good for your health! Cheers!
The message is simple:
Women: we have a remarkable ability to connect, engage, share and maintain solid networks and relationships throughout our lives. This is our greatest strength. It is a true source of our power as we age.
Men: Live like women, or at least stay closely connected with us. It could add years to your life.
For more tips on living your best life after 50 (or 60, or 70...) check out "The Best of Everything After 50: The Experts' Guide to Style, Sex, Health, Money and More" and www.bestofeverythingafter50.com. Keep me posted on how you're doing by subscribing to me on Facebook and "tweeting" me on Twitter at @BGrufferman.