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Understanding Aging as a Developmental Process. Is Life What You Make of It?
posted 10.13.2016

By Crystal McGaha

With aging comes inevitable change. I believe quality of life, well-being, level of satisfaction with life, positive health outcomes, and outcomes in several aspects heavily depend on individual ability to embrace and approach change in a positive, productive manner. I believe having a mental advantage—knowing how to maintain positive thinking above negative, challenging circumstances—improves likelihood for positive change and healing in life.

In a recent project I chose to examine how older individuals feel about the statement “Is Life What You Make It”. In particular, I explored this with those who face challenging circumstances outside of their control, such as debilitating disease, chronic illness, or significant loss of a loved one. To thoroughly and effectively explore the theoretical idea “Life is what you make it,” I chose to conduct several one-on-one interviews with adults 55 and older.

While I see the statement “Life is what you make it,” to be true in many circumstances throughout life, I can see how statements such as “Everything in your life is a reflection of a decision you have made” may miss the mark—such statements may not always be true or appropriate as we reflect upon loss, debilitating disease, or chronic illness, for example. I believe there is tremendous value in attempting to maintain a positive mindset, making the most of any situation, striving to press forward. In addition, I believe there are several circumstances that may occur in life that are not the result of our own decision-making and I do not feel that anyone should ever be made to feel weak or inadequate if they feel their joy has been stolen, or a situation has gotten the best of them.

The idea that change is inevitable in everything we do is both an easy and challenging idea for most to understand and accept. I believe that the older we become, the more mature we become; thus, we are often better equipped to know how to handle challenging aspects of change when we have experienced dramatic life changes in the past. A view of change as inevitable, in my perspective, relates to the experience of growing older. Older people have greater life experience with change, and many will anticipate and then experience several dramatic changes as they grow older and enter late-life—coming to accept various elements of decline that commonly occur throughout the aging process, for example, or losing friends and loved ones, and changing living environments.

I see great value in striving to create an unthreatening environment in which we can encourage healthy, helping relationships while further encouraging older individuals to make the most of life. I certainly believe the elderly can grow and should be encouraged to grow, find substance, healing, inspiration, and fulfillment in late life. I have come to understand that, while life is very much what you make of it, how you respond, cope, and conquer, environment plays a significant role in individual growth and ability to thrive. I believe the desire to thoroughly understand both the individual context and the combination of individual and their environment—how both elements dramatically impact one another—applies to the larger concepts of humanistic gerontology and elder communities as we seek to connect and place elders in living environments they will embrace and enjoy, where they will be embraced and enjoyed.

I believe, whether we like it or not, everything around us is changeable. Many aspects of change are completely under our individual control, while the majority of changes that take place in our lives are, in my view, outside of our individual control. We may have to be willing to live differently. While I believe the majority of changes that occur in our lives have and will take place outside of our individual control, I believe we all have power within ourselves to determine our mindset and how we choose to handle our circumstances.

While it is important to grow as individuals and take time to focus on ourselves, it is equally necessary to look outside of ourselves—to consider and be thoughtful of our surroundings, how we influence our surroundings, how our surroundings influence us, how change is inevitable, and how change relates to aging. No matter what occurs in life—in or outside of our personal control—morale is half the battle. There is much to gain from positive agers: be observant and take every opportunity to build perspective, be a source of comfort and friendship to others, and be both thoughtful and grateful.

As we reflect upon loss, debilitating disease, or chronic illness, for example, there is tremendous value in attempting to maintain a positive mindset, making the most of any situation, and striving to press forward. There are several circumstances that may occur in life that are not the result of our own decision making—we may have to be willing to live differently, but we can actively decide to make the most of the life, circumstances, talents, abilities, dispositions, families, and gifts that have been bestowed upon us. Life may not be what we make it, but it is very much what we make of it.

Crystal McGaha is working towards her MA in gerontology with a concentration in professional geriatric care management through Nova Southeastern University. She has a BA in complementary and alternative health with a minor in human resources management. Her goal is to combine her knowledge in alternative health and human resources management with gerontology to offer the aging population unique, yet very important care initiatives, life planning, and health promotion opportunities. Contact her by email at or LinkedIn.

For further suggestions and information regarding how geriatric care managers and other professionals in aging can seek to improve quality of life, please look for my future articles.

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