A Life Well Lived

My father-in-law, Stanley, recently passed away. Nearing 95 years of age, God bless him, he lived a wonderful life.

Stanley was a character in the greatest sense of the word. Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, he was street-smart and blessed with incredible raw intelligence. Stanley was a World War ll veteran, had a great career, a terrific group of friends, and two daughters with his wife of nearly 68 years. Stanley also experienced his share of heartache, losing his eldest daughter to cancer at a young age and his father, a man he loved dearly, to the irresponsibility of a drunk driver.

In my 24-year relationship with Stanley, I saw a person who was truly happy. Up to his last days, he had a wicked quick wit, a wonderful sense of humor, a strong social circle, and a continued desire to expand his interests. In fact, Stanley took up watercolor painting and went to classes until last year, worked with a master bridge instructor to improve his game, took golf lessons through age 93, and loved traveling with his wife, Gloria. Their last big trips were to Antarctica and Cuba when Stanley was in his early 90’s.

Stanley has been on my mind a lot recently, and last week, while I was watching TV during my workout, a religious broadcast came on. I immediately went to switch the channel (sorry…), but paused when I realized the pastor’s sermon was about living a happy and productive life. Needless to say, I was curious to see how his insights stacked up with the way Stanley lived his life.

I have to tell you, listening to the pastor, you’d have thought he knew Stanley personally. I am excited to share several life-enhancing attributes so you can hopefully incorporate them into your daily routine. Let’s call them the “6 Ls”! Here they are…

Learn: This doesn’t mean going back to school, but rather, it’s about being intellectually curious. Start by identifying your interests and engaging them. Take the extra step to explore, become intrigued by and aware of something new. Medical research demonstrates that stimulating your brain with new experiences keeps you younger and enhances your cognitive well-being.

Love: Although very personal, I believe this is more than pure romance; it is about having an open heart and allowing others into your life and therefore you into theirs. It is the ability to care for and openly want what is best for those you hold dear. Studies have shown that something as simple as a warm embrace with or loving thoughts about someone you care for (like a parent, child, or spouse) can cause your body to release oxytocin, which has the power to reduce stress hormones and lower blood pressure.

Laugh: What feels better than a big belly laugh? Let go and just enjoy the hell out of yourself! Try seeing humor in something you experience every day. Laughter triggers the release of endorphins - the body's natural feel-good chemicals - which can promote an overall sense of well-being and even temporarily relieve pain. Laughter helps blood vessels expand and blood flow more easily. Tune into a funny movie at the end of the day or call a friend who has a habit of making you laugh. This is a wonderful prescription for good health.

Letting Go: This is a biggie...move on, forgive, whatever you want to call it. This is essential to leading a positive, healthy life. According to the Mayo Clinic, forgiveness is a decision to let go of resentment and thoughts of revenge. The act that wounded or offended you might always remain a part of your life, but forgiveness can loosen its grip and help you focus on other, more positive parts of your life. Honestly, if you don't practice forgiveness, you might be the one who pays most dearly. By embracing forgiveness, you can also embrace peace, hope, gratitude and joy, which will give you a more positive life experience.

Letting In: Expand your social circle. As we get older, especially for family caregivers, it is so easy to become more and more isolated. Research shows that an individual’s social relationships most influence their overall happiness. However, to do this, you need to have the mindset of “letting people in.” Connecting with people through social activities allows you to share your thoughts and feelings, and those connections become especially important during times you need extra support. Interestingly, a study by The Center for Advancing Health found that older adults who maintain high levels of social activity or ramp up their social life as they age measurably benefit their cognitive and physical health.

Leaning In: To me “leaning in” is getting involved in and becoming part of something bigger than you. This doesn’t entail saving the world, it means seeking a greater purpose with the goal of helping others. Study after study shows that even when a person is having difficulties, the emotional lull they feel lessens when they reach out to help others in need. Depression can be reduced in its intensity and duration, blood pressure is lowered, even chronic pain can be reduced. Simply put, helping others gives you a greater purpose, a deeper sense of satisfaction and makes you a happier person!

So, that’s it…easy peasy…right? Well, it may not be that automatic at first, but I guarantee that if you pay attention to the 6 L’s and try to incorporate some (or all!) of them into your daily routine, your life will expand and your happiness and internal joy will be more noticeable than ever. And one thing I know for certain: this is something Stanley would want for you J.

Help yourself. Help others.

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