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Perspective: Living long and living well

Helena Lopes

Over the past few days, thoughts of the Golden Rule have been running through my mind. I’m guessing this is due to recent stultifying news related to climate crises, human atrocities, and the ways in which so many elected leaders unabashedly ignore the will of the people who put them in office. If these reflect the Golden Rule in action, there’s a heaping load of self-hate in the world today.

What’s remarkable about the Golden Rule is that there’s some version of it in virtually every religion around the globe. While it may be expressed in different ways, the message is the same – our kindness and our connectedness form the only glue that will hold a healthy society together. They also promote longevity.

When I asked over a thousand folks, sixty and older, what contributed to their wellbeing, family and friends were the hands down most popular answers. Research suggests that when men face danger, they enter “fight or flight” mode, but women display a “tend and befriend” response. As we age, our ability to fight our foes declines, which is probably why affiliation and connection are the “survival strategies” older adults embrace. Feeling that you matter to others gives life meaning and purpose and a reason to continue to “show up” in life.

The past few years haven’t been easy, and they’ve provided “object lessons” about how our actions affect our neighbors and our neighbors’ choices affect us. During stressful times, some people show the best of themselves, and others show the worst; challenge yourself to always be the former. The interrelationships between health, happiness, and kindness underscore the importance of caring for and about others as keys to living long and living well.

I’m Suzanne Degges-White and that’s my perspective.

Chair and Professor - NIU counseling and higher education