Live with Passionate Optimism: Survive a Crisis In Health, Make This Best Year

Posted on June 8th, 2011 by Maggie Castrey

Optimism!By Dr. Nancy D. O’Reilly, Psy.D.

If you are waiting for something to happen before you can be happy and feel good about your life, you need to stop waiting and be happy now.  Get out of the doldrums and “Carpe Diem!” That’s Latin for Seize the Day!

That’s the philosophy of Dr. Elaine Dembe, a 62-year-old chiropractor from Toronto, Canada. She is also an inspiring keynote speaker, one of Canada’s outstanding authorities on stress resiliency, longevity and motivation, and an elite athlete who has run 17 marathons and celebrated her 60th birthday by climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.

Dr. Elaine advises women to continually try new things and challenge themselves, as well as to keep in shape. Her two best-selling books are Use the Good Dishes: Finding Joy in Everyday Life and Passionate Longevity: The 10 Secrets to Growing Younger.

Women who continue to feel young and happy throughout the decades of their lives usually have someone they look up to and regard as a mentor. My own role model for passionate living was my dear grandmother, Mama Nancy, who never let her tiny stature make her feel small.

Dr. Elaine is a role model of being all you can be and not letting those birthday candles dictate what you can do. She says too many people ask, “How can I do that at my age?” instead of focusing on what they want and doing it anyway.

When Dr. Elaine was about 30 she started running to get back in shape after completing chiropractic school. “I wanted to give my patients a good example,” Elaine says. “There weren’t that many women running at that time.”  She became the go-to woman for local television stations interested in sports injuries.

She faced the major losses of divorce and her mother’s death, then decided to write a book about extraordinary older adults. “They were living the kind of life I wanted to live.”

Strengthen Bonds This Year

It’s sad when women allow themselves to feel invisible and dismissed as they get older. Not Dr. Elaine! “Growing older is a time to strengthen bonds,” she says. “It is a time for personal growth, for tapping into your own inner wisdom, your own creativity. These are the things that keep you passionate and young.” Dr. Elaine refuses to allow bodily frailty to slow her down. “Right now I have osteoarthritis in my right big toe. Thankfully, it doesn’t bother me when I run, but I can’t wear high heels.

Rather than complaining that our society doesn’t revere older people, Dr. Elaine cites a Buddhist philosophy: “Comparing is the root cause of suffering.” You can choose to be grateful and appreciative of waking up today, or you can compare today to how you felt 30 years ago.

She’s also an optimist, and optimists are happier, healthier and they live longer than pessimists. Dr. Elaine says people who have the greatest difficulty have pessimistic thoughts like, “Oh, what’s the use. I can’t do it anymore. I’m getting older.” Be aware of what you’re thinking, she cautions. Challenge your pessimistic thoughts…and ask, “Wait a minute is this true?”

Return to Your Basic, Happy State

People who stay healthy, fit and happy as they grow older tend to be resilient optimists with “an unsinkable spirit.” Even when they are challenged or feel sad, they dig themselves out of the pit and return to a basic happy state. She says it helps to interpret events as having meaning and purpose and to say things like, “It was meant to be. I know I’m going to get through this.”

I’ve seen this happen in my crisis response work. I was there after 911, after the fires in California and Hurricane Katrina. I saw people who had gone through the worst event of their lives saying, “Well, I still have my house” or “I still have my children.” Dr. Elaine and I agree that the people who do the very best are fluid and flexible with good support systems. They have:

  • Healthy relationships
  • Manageable levels of conflict
  • Equanimity
  • Family or friends who love and support them
  • Faith that helped them
  • Modest needs
  • An ability to find joy in everyday little things.

“Happiness is there all over the place,” Dr. Elaine says. “You just have to open your eyes and see it.”

As a psychologist, I know people need to give themselves permission: “It’s okay to feel good. It’s okay to be successful. It’s okay to have love. It’s okay to belong.” That’s one of the benefits of getting older: we stop worrying about what other people think and give permission to be ourselves with passion and purpose. When people find their authentic voice and the elite human being inside, they discover they have so much to offer. Dr. Elaine offers several keys for connecting with your authentic self. She urges us to focus on keeping our bodies strong so our health span of disability-free years will match our life spans.

Do This for Physical and Mental Health

Her prescription:

  • Train with weights
  • Cultivate core muscle strength
  • Reduce body fat through good nutrition
  • Get 7 to 8 hours of sleep
  • Be optimistic
  • Maintain healthy relationships
  • Find something you love to do
  • Keep your brain strong by continuing to learn
  • Do something that scares you that you never thought you could do.

Most of all, she says we should challenge ourselves to find our courage. Don’t sit back and rust out! Dr. Elaine had never written books before, but now she has written two bestsellers. She started rapping, then she learned to tap dance. She loves being in an “expansion mode” where she thinks, “What’s the next thing I’m going to do?” There’s no end to wonderful things out there.

Let’s follow Dr. Elaine’s example. Let’s NOT put up boundaries and limit what we can do. Instead, we can keep ourselves healthy and growing, vibrant and alive, throughout our lives!

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