Older people use aspects of mindfulness to deal with life’s ups and downs, says research.
It’s said that wisdom comes with age. Now, research helps explain why. Behavioural scientists Leeann Mahlo and Tim Windsor from Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia, wanted to see if characteristics of mindfulness differed across the life span.
In one of the first studies of its kind, over 600 people between the ages of 18-86 completed online questionnaires to measure characteristics of mindfulness, such as present-moment attention, acceptance, attachment, judgement and decentering – the ability to step outside of one’s experience. Other assessments measured psychological wellbeing and flexibility in adjusting goals.
The findings published in Age and Mental Health found people over 40 tended to live more in the moment and evaluated life’s events with less judgement. In addition, older people moved on from goals that weren’t attained and set new attainable goals compared to younger people.
“Our findings indicate that across the second half of life, the tendency to live in the present moment and adopt a non-judgemental orientation may become especially important for wellbeing”, wrote the authors.
The authors speculate midlife is a pivotal point in the life span where a cluster of stressors occur, resulting in an awareness that time is precious. As people experience change, loss and realize life is not infinite, they begin to notice and savour the good times more, resulting in a more satisfying life.
“The ability to appreciate the temporary nature of personal experiences may be particularly important for the way people manage their day-to-day goals across the second half of life,” said study lead author Leeann Mahlo in a press release.
The authors have the following tips for developing mindful techniques:
- Becoming aware of our thoughts and surroundings and paying attention to the present moment in an open and non-judgmental way can prevent us from focusing on the past or worrying about the future in unhelpful patterns.
- Understanding that our thoughts, feelings and situations exist in the moment and will not last can help us respond in flexible, more optimistic ways to challenging circumstances.
- Find out more about mindfulness via app-based programs such as Calm, Headspace, Insight Timer, Smiling Mind, and Stop, Breathe & Think. These are available for use on computers or smartphones and offer flexible ways of learning and practising mindfulness – including for people now spending more time at home.
Leeann Mahlo, Tim D. Windsor. Older and more mindful? Age differences in mindfulness components and wellbeing. Aging & Mental Health, 2020; 1 DOI: 10.1080/13607863.2020.1734915