Aging Not as Pathology but as Potential

Published on October 24, 2017

Jane Fonda – Insights Driving the Future of Quality of Life for Seniors

At age 62, the actress, writer and activist Jane Fonda was amazed to realize she was extremely happy. As she told the audience, she wanted to find out whether she was unique – and if not, what were the reasons. Normally, she noted, we are brought up with the image of aging as an arch: “You’re born, you peak at midlife and then decline into decrepitude.” Fonda’s research gave her a better metaphor: that of age as a staircase, “the upward ascension of the human spirit potentially bringing us into wisdom, authenticity and wholeness. Age not as pathology but age as potential.”

How We Age is Up to Us

Fonda claimed that beyond genetics, how well we deal with age is mostly up to us. A pioneer of the fitness movement, she’s still a strong believer, saying that remaining physically fit has served her well, and it’s never too late to start.

Her second recommendation was for people to write their memoirs, saying that psychologists call this a “life review” and often recommend it for elder patients who are depressed. While preparing her autobiography, she spent five years researching herself and her ancestors, sifting through the whys and wherefores of her past like an archaeologist. “Chances are if you go back like this you’ll see that much of what did or didn’t happen back then had nothing to do with you,” she said. “It was their issues – your parents, your grandparents. And when you realize this, you become liberated. You’re able to forgive them and yourself, and you can begin to really design your life.”

"Revisioning" Our Past for a Better Future

Fonda quoted Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor who wrote that everything in life can be taken from us except the freedom to choose how we respond to a given situation. It is this, she noted, that determines quality of life – the meaning we assign to things and what state of mind they trigger.

She cited cognitive research showing that when we try to understand our past and modify our behaviors and attitudes, we can change the wiring of our brains. And, she added, "revisioning" her past has been central to her sense of well-being today.

“For most people, certainly for myself, opting to mount the staircase rather than following the arch as we age – it doesn’t just happen, we need to be intentional about how we are living now. It isn’t just having had a lot of experiences that makes us wise and happy. It’s reflecting on those experiences that brings wisdom and wholeness and helps us become what we might have been all along.”