Aging successfully: “think fast!” vs reflective contemplation

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The New York Times article The Science of Older and Wiser by Phyllis Korkki, provides a scientific, yet personal, foray into the location of where wisdom resides.

The article also addresses levels of importance between the speed with which information is retrieved from one’s mind versus a life filled with meaning, contentment and acceptance.  Speedy retrieval of information appears to belong to those who are younger than Baby Boomers while those who take longer to tap into a data-filled mind are us Baby Boomers or older for whom information retrieval falls second.  Once that information is retrieved, however, it is used to gain insights and perspectives that form the basis for wise behavior and decisions.

Must everything in our lives function at breakneck speed?  Consider these synonyms for fast, or quick:

  • speedy
  • swift
  • express
  • high-speed
  • immediate
  • expeditious
  • brisk
  • hasty (haste makes waste!)
from "The Colors and Letters of Jen Elek and Jeremy Bert" (Seattle)
from “The Colors and Letters of Jen Elek and Jeremy Bert” (Seattle-based artists)

We live in such a fast-paced world that we find ourselves snapping our fingers at how long it takes to make a cup of K-Cup (pod) coffee.  We want it now!  Now, I tell you!  What’s taking so long?  We will even pay extra when traveling by plane in order to use TSA’s faster Pre-Check security lane, and we’ll pay an annual subscription to Amazon.com to get free 2-day shipping for the plethora of things we purchase there.

But is faster always better than reflective contemplation?

Consider some definitions of wisdom provided in the above-attached article:

  • “True wisdom involves recognizing the negative both within and outside ourselves and trying to learn from it.” (Ursula M. Staudinger, The Berlin Wisdom Project);
  • Wisdom is characterized by a “reduction in self-centeredness.” (Monika Ardelt, associate sociology professor, Univ. of Florida, Gainseville);
  • If you are wise, “You’re not focusing so much on what you need and deserve, but on what you can contribute.” (Laura L. Carstensen, founding director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, California); and
  • An important sign of wisdom is generativity, which means “giving back without needing anything in return.” (Dr. Daniel Goleman, author of Focus and Emotional Intelligence, psychologist, science journalist.)

Given the descriptions for the word “fast” and the characterizations for the quality known as “wisdom”, what will your life’s main focus be as you graduate through the various stages of aging?  Unless your later years involve being the fastest on the ski slopes, or the quickest person to complete the NY Times crossword puzzle, consider this element of successful aging: “(M)ost psychologists agree that if you define wisdom as maintaining positive well-being and kindness in the face of challenges, it is one of the most important qualities one can possess to age successfully.”  (Phyllis Korkki, New York Times)

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