What do older people regret when they look back over their lives? I asked hundreds of the oldest Americans that question. I hadexpected big-ticket items: an affair, a shady business deal, addictions — that kind of thing. I was therefore unprepared for the answer they often gave:
I wish I hadn’t spent so much of my life worrying.
Over and over, as the 1,200 elders in our Legacy Project reflected on their lives, I heard versions of “I would have spent less time worrying” and “I regret that I worried so much about everything.” Indeed, from the vantage point of late life, many people felt that if given a single “do-over” in life, they would like to have all the time back they spent fretting anxiously about the future.
Their advice on this issue is devastatingly simple and direct: Worry is an enormous waste of your precious and limited lifetime. They suggested training yourself to reduce or eliminate worrying as the single most positive step you can make toward greater happiness. The elders conveyed, in urgent terms, that worry is an unnecessary barrier to joy and contentment. And it’s not just what they said — it’s how they said it.
John Alonzo, 83, is a man of few words, but I quickly learned that what he had to say went straight to the point. A construction worker, he had battled a lifetime of financial insecurity. But he didn’t think twice in giving this advice:
Don’t believe that worrying will solve or help anything. It won’t. So stop it.
That was it. His one life lesson was simply to stop worrying.
James Huang, 87, put it this way:
Why? I ask myself. What possible difference did it make that I kept my mind on every little thing that might go wrong? When I realized that it made no difference at all, I experienced a freedom that’s hard to describe. My life lesson is this: Turn yourself from frittering away the day worrying about what comes next and let everything else that you love and enjoy move in.
This surprised me. Indeed, I thought that older people would endorse a certain level of worry. It seemed reasonable that people who had experienced the Great Depression would want to encourage financial worries; who fought or lost relatives in World War II would suggest we worry about international issues; and who currently deal with increasing health problems would want us to worry about our health.
The reverse is the case, however. The elders see worry as a crippling feature of our daily existence and suggest that we do everything in our power to change it. Why is excessive worry such a big regret? Because, according to the elders,worry wastes your very limited and precious lifetime. By poisoning the present moment, they told me, you lose days, months, or years that you can never recover.
Betty, 76, expressed this point with a succinct example:
I was working, and we learned that there were going to be layoffs in my company in three months. I did nothing with that time besides worry. I poisoned my life by worrying obsessively, even though I had no control over what would happen. Well — I wish I had those three months back.
Life is simply too short, the oldest Americans tell us, to spend it torturing yourself over outcomes that may never come to pass.
How should we use this lesson, so that we don’t wind up at the end of our lives longing to get back the time we wasted worrying? The elders fortunately provide us with some concrete ways of thinking differently about worry and moving beyond it as we go through our daily lives.
Tip 1: Focus on the short term rather than the long term.
Eleanor is a delightful, positive 102-year-old who has had much to worry about in her long life. Her advice is to avoid the long view when you are consumed with worry and to focus instead on the day at hand. She told me:
Well, I think that if you worry, and you worry a lot, you have to stop and think to yourself, “This too will pass.” You just can’t go on worrying all the time because it destroys you and life, really. But there’s all the times when you think of worrying and you can’t help it — then just make yourself stop and think: it doesn’t do you any good. You have to put it out of your mind as much as you can at the time. You just have to take one day at a time. It’s a good idea to plan ahead if possible, but you can’t always do that because things don’t always happen the way you were hoping they would happen. So the most important thing is one day at a time.
Tip 2: Instead of worrying, prepare.
The elders see a distinct difference between worry and conscious, rational planning, which greatly reduces worry. It’s the free-floating worry, after one has done everything one can about a problem, which seems so wasteful to them.
Joshua Bateman, 74, summed up the consensus view:
If you’re going to be afraid of something, you really ought to know what it is. At least understand why. Identify it. ‘I’m afraid of X.’ And sometimes you might have good reason. That’s a legitimate concern. And you can plan for it instead of worrying about it.
Tip 3: Acceptance is an antidote to worry
The elders have been through the entire process many times: worrying about an event, having the event occur and experiencing the aftermath. Based on this experience, they recommend an attitude of acceptance as a solution to the problem of worry. However, we tend to see acceptance as purely passive, not something we can actively foster. In addition to focusing on the day at hand and being prepared as cures for worry, many of the elders also recommend actively working toward acceptance. Indeed this was most often the message of the oldest experts.
Sister Clare, a 99-year-old nun, shared a technique for reducing worry through pursuing acceptance:
There was a priest that said mass for us, and at a certain time of his life, something happened, and it broke his heart. And he was very angry — he just couldn’t be resigned, he couldn’t get his mind off it. Just couldn’t see why it had happened.So he went to an elderly priest and said, “What shall I do? I can’t get rid of it.” And the priest said, “Every time it comes to your mind, say this.” And the priest said very slowly, “Just let it be, let it be.” And this priest told us, “I tried that and at first it didn’t make any difference, but I kept on. After a while, when I pushed it aside, let it be, it went away. Maybe not entirely, but it was the answer.”
Sister Clare, one of the most serene people I have ever met, has used this technique for well over three-quarters of a century.
So many things come to your mind. Now, for instance, somebody might hurt your feelings. You’re going to get back at him or her — well, just let it be. Push it away. So I started doing that. I found it the most wonderful thing because everybody has uncharitable thoughts, you can’t help it. Some people get on your nerves and that will be there until you die. But when they start and I find myself thinking, “Well, now, she shouldn’t do that. I should tell her that . . .” Let it be. Often, before I say anything, I think, “If I did that, then what?” And let it be. Oh, so many times I felt grateful that I did nothing. That lesson has helped me an awful lot.
Worry is endemic to the experience of most modern-day human beings, so much so that following this piece of elder wisdom may seem impossible to some of you. But what the elders tell us is consistent with research findings. The key characteristic of worry, according to scientists who study it, is that it takes place in the absence of actual stressors; that is, we worry when there is actually nothing concrete to worry about. This kind of worry — ruminating about possible bad things that may happen to us or our loved ones — is entirely different from concrete problem solving. When we worry, we are dwelling on possible threats to ourselves rather than simply using our cognitive resources to figure a way out of a difficult situation.
A critically important strategy for regret reduction, according to our elders, is increasing the time spent on concrete problem solving and drastically eliminating time spent worrying. One activity enhances life, whereas down the road the other is deeply regretted as a waste of our all-too-short time on Earth.
current status- click if it doesn’t animate
this kind of thing requires patience and dedication
I didn’t do the radio program last week, although the moon was literally full when the show should have been on. I just wasn’t prepared. It snuck up on me. I’m getting old, tired, ad I deeded to geddup in the mording.
Next week, olroight?
And it’s been months since I updated the archives, though I have the recordings around somewhere. Time is getting away from me. Good old time. Slippery devil.
You can see what it looked like here. The moon that is.
Blizzard, our blind cat, "looks" out the window, click for big
Time, though is hard to catch with a photo. Best example I’ve seen this week:
So, what else is new? Besides everything? Yesterday I took off from work, had a rather bad day. Shoulda gone to work.
Today: tired, listless (now where did I put that list??), slow. God buzz in my head says, “it’s okay, roll widit”. Relationship problems- one key to destroying the ego. Journaled about it. Had some ideas.
slower than above…
Bachmann Close-up... click big at your own peril...
Have a kitten at home:
Matt with Lilith, click for big, as if.
Don't eat that! They are tricking you!!
click for big, yo. always.
Info-porn- click for big.
Life- One big family, evolving
worth clicking for big...
these are also worth the big shot…
So, what am I doing? Just posting a bunch of pictures I came across? Yeah. That’s it, mostly, unless they’re my pictures.
Maybe we need some music- Like Joshua James, ferinstance:
Abbey Riot (with apologies to the entire British Empire)
Radio will be back this weekend. Technically, 1 am, Pacific Daylight Savings Time, KBOO, 90.7 fm in Portland, OR; kboo.fm for streaming. In fact, go there right now. Something good is one, no doubt. Can’t go past here. One more, just one…
As a State employee I have the perk of getting tomorrow off without pay (part of the Furlough Day program to cut budget deficits). I decided to take today off as well, using a vacation day, to make a 4 day weekend.
Anyway, I have lots of stuff to do over the weekend- more than I could do in 2 days. We have a guest arriving from out of town- a long-term guest- and we’re turning part of the garage into a bedroom. There is still much to do and she arrives in a week.
Today I’ll just share some pictures, maybe another thing or two.
The pictures below are from National Geographic, they are free desktop images. You can find these and more at this place. Click for full size then right click to save.
This one makes me think the little guy is saying, “What in the heck has happened to my neighborhood?!”
The oldest evidence of a fungus that turns ants into zombies and makes them stagger to their death has been uncovered by scientists.
The gruesome hallmark of the fungus’s handiwork was found on the leaves of plants that grew in Messel, near Darmstadt in Germany, 48m years ago.
The finding shows that parasitic fungi evolved the ability to control the creatures they infect in the distant past, even before the rise of the Himalayas.
The fungus, which is alive and well in forests today, latches on to carpenter ants as they cross the forest floor before returning to their nests high in the canopy.
The fungus grows inside the ants and releases chemicals that affect their behaviour. Some ants leave the colony and wander off to find fresh leaves on their own, while others fall from their tree-top havens on to leaves nearer the ground.
The final stage of the parasitic death sentence is the most macabre. In their last hours, infected ants move towards the underside of the leaf they are on and lock their mandibles in a “death grip” around the central vein, immobilising themselves and locking the fungus in position.
The fungus cannot grow high up in the canopy or on the forest floor, but infected ants often die on leaves midway between the two, where the humidity and temperature suit the fungus. Once an ant has died, the fungus sprouts from its head and produces a pod of spores, which are fired at night on to the forest floor, where they can infect other ants.
Scientists led by Hughes noticed that ants infected with the fungus,Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, bit into leaves with so much force they left a lasting mark. The holes created by their mandibles either side of the leaf vein are bordered by scar tissue, producing an unmistakable dumb-bell shape.
Writing in the journal, Biology Letters, the team describes how they trawled a database of images that document leaf damage by insects, fungi and other organisms. They found one image of a 48m-year-old leaf from the Messel pit that showed the distinctive “death grip” markings of an infected ant. At the time, the Messel area was thick with subtropical forests.
“We now present it as the first example of behavioural manipulation and probably the only one which can be found. In most cases, this kind of control is spectacular but ephemeral and doesn’t leave any permanent trace,” Hughes said.
“The question now is, what are the triggers that push a parasite not just to kill its host, but to take over its brain and muscles and then kill it.”
He added: “Of all the parasitic organisms, only a few have evolved this trick of manipulating their host’s behaviour.
Why go to the bother? Why are there not more of them?”
Scientists are not clear how the fungus controls the ants it infects, but know that the parasite releases alkaloid chemicals into the insect as it consumes it from the inside.
On the subject of Zombies, Zombie nuts!
Saddest photo ever-
At the place I work they are hiring a new Superintendent. I know some people who having worked in this place for many years are on the verge of quitting. I just hope this guy lives up to the hype. I can hardly stand to lose more people who support the good things. So far, all the news is good. We meet him next week.