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  • Writer's pictureJane Leder

Stories We Tell Ourselves

What if I told you that women seventy+ are enjoying the happiest time of their lives?

Sounds like someone from another planet. Right? But contrary to everything we hear about older women--we're frail, unhappy, sexless, useless (You can add a few choice stereotypes, I'm sure)--researches and award-winning author and psychologist Mary Pipher, in her new book, Women Rowing North: Navigating Life's Currents and Flourishing as We Age, contradict the cultural dismissal of older women and champion our wisdom, experience, and ability to row upstream against the current.

There is no doubt that older women face obstacles: ageism, health issues, and loss of friends, siblings, and partners. Some older women wake up every morning in pain and have to will their bodies to move forward; others deal with diabetes, eye and ear problems, arthritis, poor balance, subsequent falling, shrinking--the list goes on. (Hell, I fell, suffered a compression fracture in my spine, and have spent the last 10 months going from one treatment to the next. This may well be my new reality.)

But as Pipher suggests, we have seven (Count them! Seven!) decades of experience to help us deal with these changes. While many older women can't carry a heavy backpack and hike ten miles, with joy and can do The kinds of things they couldn't do before: not work fulltime or at all; enjoy the leisure time that allows us to do what we love; learn new things like a second language, travel, pick up that paint brush that's been stuffed in your basement for years.

We older women know how to adapt. We are fierce and understand that happiness is a choice that we renew daily. We are happier than we think, resilient even in the face of tragedy, and capable of what Pipher calls emergent behavior. We can decide to flourish and be deeply engaged with others and in the world as a whole, or we can get stuck in old patterns of stress, anxiety, and a lack of will.

As older women, we have nothing to prove. We can be honest with ourselves and listen to the voice inside. We have the power to say "No". Yes, we understand that time is running short but we can be grateful for all that we've accomplished and all that lies ahead. We don't have control, that we know, but we have choices and the stories we tell ourselves

Okay, I get it: some of you are skeptical and take this as another example of psychobabble. I'm no exception. It sounds so easy, so pat. We all have stories that we tell ourselves. And sometimes these stories aren't such happy ones. But from what the researchers have shown and my own experience, I know in my gut what feels good and right and what does not. Here's to all of us rewriting our stories and living with grace and bliss.


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