Is Positive Aging an Oxymoron?

shutterstock_73623601 An oxymoron combines contradictory terms, such as, almost exactly, bitter sweet, and positive aging. When I told friends and colleagues I’d been selected to present at the Conference for Positive Aging in Los Angeles recently, the most common reaction was, “What’s positive about aging?”

At first glance, these reactions make sense. While we may be able to ignore it earlier in life, we all know what is at the end of the aging process. But, there is much more to aging than just sitting around waiting to die. There is more to aging than disease and decline. This is true even if our bodies and minds aren’t as youthful as we would like.

While we live in a world the pays homage to physical beauty and youth, we don’t have to fall victim to that as we age. In fact, the general consensus at the conference was growing older was much better than youth. The caveat to that statement is, of course, with the right attitude.

While the physical declines, most of the other aspects of life improve with life. But, that doesn’t mean life gets easier, even if it gets better.

Many people at the conference talked about an enriched pursuit of purpose and meaning as we get older. With that comes the distinction between being an elder and being elderly. What is the difference?

One of the biggest obstacles many, if not most baby boomers will confront is internalized ageism. As part of the largest generation the world had seen, we grew up in a very youth centric world. We were the ones to say, “Don’t trust anyone over thirty.”

How do we as a generation meet our own aging? One of the most profound talks I heard was from artist Alice and husband, sculptor Richard Matzkin who have embrace the artistic interpretations of aging. (You can see more at As Alice showed first her paintings of old women, and then of old nudes of women, I have to admit, I had a hard time seeing the beauty. I want to, but I’m still culturally conditioned to see beauty in thin and youth. While I’ve made some peace with my own aging body, there’s still a part of me that wants the body of forty years ago.

Can baby boomers embrace positive aging? The fact that we’re having a conversation about it shows how things are changing. We have a long way to go. I’m curious about both your challenges with positive aging as well as demonstrations of aging as a glorious time.







  1. Linda Aspey says:

    This is a very thought provoking piece Cathy. How do we come to terms with our own ageing bodies when our often instinctive reaction is to wince at ourselves?

    I have a good friend, a lady in her 70s, who once said to me when I complained about my ageing skin “Oh – when I look in the mirror at my older self I’m delighted – it reminds me of my beautiful, wonderful mother!”

    • Cathy Severson says:

      Linda, it’s such a fascinating topic. I have a wonderful aunt who is in her mid 90′s. She’s quite vocal about how she doens’t mind the aches and pains of age, but hates the loss of beauty. I’ve written about how she still wears high heeled shoes and dresses to the nines. For the sake of peace and acceptance, it’s important to appreciate the aging process, but we all grapple with it in our own ways.

  2. Excellent piece Cathy. I’m 47 years old, work out every day, and have 2 precocious children ages 6 and 8 who don’t care how old Daddy feels :) . I am definitely fighting internalized ageism simply because my body reminds me daily. However, about a 2 months ago I started taking Magnesium Chloride daily and I can’t begin to tell you the difference in my entire body!

    For every year I get older, I find ways to turn back the clock but I fully accept it! I just want to be here as long as I can to guide my children through this thing we call life! I’m definitely embracing positive aging though!

    • Cathy Severson says:

      We’re in very similar mindsets even though totally different stages. My family is grown, but I do want to ward of the aging process. I know I won’t ever look 20 again, but I’m very aware of a body that isn’t what it used to be and quite frankly I vacillate between emotions. On the one hand, I accept aging, on the other hand want to fight it with everything I have.

      • evelyn says:

        WOW! I am so happy I found this blog. I am at the end of the baby boomer spectrum (or I like to consider that I am), and remember watching 30 Something when I was 20 Something. It was like, whoa, I am right around the corner. Cathy, you are providing an amazing service for those who would like to be coached around aging issues and developing new passions. In another post of yours that I was reading, I love how you bring in Martin Seligman. It is so true that when one engages in something they are passionate about, or finds a new passion, time goes quickly and enjoyably. Hmmm, but do we age faster then???? Keep up your good work, and I will be back for more positivity and support.

        • Cathy Severson says:

          Evelyn, Thank you. One of the assumptions people make is that retirement should easy and take care of itself. I was talking to the security guard at my local mall who went back to work because he hated watching tv all day. Work is certainly one option, one that many will choose, but I want to help people find the the full array.

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