Welcome to the ongoing discussion about living your best life after 50. Each week I post an article to ignite a discussion about the challenges and joys of midlife. Please read, share, comment, and engage! The more people involved in the conversation, the more we'll all connect, and learn from each other. If there's something specific you'd like to discuss, I'd love to hear from you.
My question isn't meant to create a schism between men and women. Nor is it a question about how we look. It's about how we feel.
Do women embrace aging better than men? Are we happier with our lives and are we better equipped to handle the myriad of changes than they are? 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 who wrote an article for Psychology Today recently, 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, and she contributes that to the natural strengths women possess -- coping skills, empathy, ability to listen, patience -- which help us to tackle new problems and situations that arise as we age, and 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."
Dr. Nolen-Hoeksema conducted a study recently and it seems that 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 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... not from without. 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 body images 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 Number One 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 (i.e., dealing with aging parents, illness, death, 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 women friends on websites, Facebook, and here on The Huffington Post, has grown exponentially during this past year 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.
I've been tuning into the voices of women over 50 since I decided to write my book, and what I hear is beautiful indeed. As a result of our desire to stay connected and foster each other's growth as we age, an amazing crop of websites and blogs have blossomed and continue to flourish. These are places where women can "meet" safely, without judgment (for the most part), get information, and each one has its own unique voice, frequently reflecting the sensibilities of its founder. Some are energetic and sexy, urging its readers to push themselves out of their comfort zones, while others are like soft, gentle breezes, coaxing hard-working women to relax, replenish, renew. I love them all, and I love the women behind them.
A few of the websites and blogs that are especially effective at reflecting the interests and concerns of women over 50 include:
There are many more, and I'm sure I missed quite a few, so please, when you leave a comment, tell us about your favorites.
So, about that question:
Are women better at aging than men?
I put the question out to my friends on Facebook, and here's what a few of them had to say (reprinted with their permission):
Barbara Briggs Ward: I think the tide has turned. Women are more in charge of their aging. They are no longer giving in to it. They run; walk; try new careers; eat well; find new loves. Age no longer means slowing down and retreating. Age does not define a woman-for better or worse. It only opens new doors for them. And I think all of this has given women an edge over the men who are used to doors always being open.
Denise Taylor Tremaine: You don't ever hear, or rarely, of women going through a mid-life crisis... we handle everything with grace.
Kim Okerson: I agree that the social pressure on women is far greater, but it is up to each of us to have the grace and dignity to accept that our age is state of mind.
Connie Katon Wingo: The emotional impact of aging is difficult for men, I'd say. In their youth, they were able to have the perception of controlling their environment. Their identities as men were so often tied to their sexual perception and themselves. Their sex drive slows down, and for a great deal of men their "manhood," is tied into their perception of their sexuality. Also, as men begin to age in the workforce, their roles begin to change and coping with the feeling of obsoleteness is frightening, possibly causing men to feel more insecure about aging.
Melody George: I dont think one gender has it over another on aging. I think with men and women it is equally daunting or exciting depending on the person.
Whatever your thoughts are on this... here's the fundamental truth: the more we stick together, the happier we will be.
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Staying connected is a powerful tool. "Friend" me on Facebook, and "tweet" me on Twitter (BGrufferman). Fore more information about The Best of Everything After 50: The Experts' Guide to Style, Sex, Health, Money and More please go to my website: www.bestofeverythingafter50.com. Stay well, and stay in touch.