5 Reasons Why Connecting With Our Elders Is So Good for Our Mental Health
Some modern societal trends may have long-lasting benefits. One is multigenerational living. Although economic factors may compel extended families to share one roof, this arrangement has several advantages, including facilitating communication between older and younger individuals.
Although this trend may seem modern, it’s nothing new in the history of human evolution. Recent research links the soaring rates of deaths of despair in America with a lack of strong societal structures once common in more primitive societies — and many other current ones. While it was the norm to uplift each other, that spirit has been lost, thanks to our collective love affair with individual achievement and pursuing material wealth. As a result, mental health suffers.
Bridging the gap between generations may not solve every problem, but it can help restore the sense of community, so many sorely lack.
Here’s why connecting with our elders is so good for our mental health
1. It Lends Perspective on the Human Experience
Have you ever listened to your grandparents tell tales of the Vietnam War or their participation in the Civil Rights Movement? It’s one thing to read about such events in history books. It’s quite another to observe the non-verbal cues and emotions of people who experienced the events that changed our nation and world firsthand.
Relating these experiences helps lend the necessary perspective. It can have practical applications, too. For example, folks old enough to remember the Great Depression have beneficial economic tips to share with today’s generation about saving money and procuring essentials like food without breaking the bank.
Learning how people used to live enhances our feelings of gratitude for our modern conveniences. It’s easy to take for granted the ability to get food delivered or a ride at the touch of a button. How did people even communicate before the internet? Developing thankfulness benefits mental health by boosting dopamine and serotonin, two neurotransmitters associated with mood.
2. It Helps Us Develop Empathy
Many people think of empathy as an innate character trait. The Dutch approach it differently, teaching this skill as a school subject and thriving as a result. Gaining proficiency makes you a better human being and may even help advance your career, as employers treasure workers who can form positive relationships with colleagues and clients.
Empathy is the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes and feel their emotions as yours. Practicing this skill improves your ability to handle stressful situations by responding appropriately to the feelings of others. It also teaches you how to validate other people’s experiences, putting them at ease and letting them know their reactions are okay.
3. It Provides Opportunities to Learn New Skills
Learning is a lifelong process, and connecting with your elders teaches both of you new skills. For example, you might help an older relative learn to operate a computer — they may share their favorite pie recipe or how to can peaches.
Why is it vital to continue learning throughout your lifetime? Doing so increases your sense of agency. What’s that and why does it matter?
Agency refers to your core belief that your actions can make a positive difference in your world. It tends to decrease as you age, as factors like physical infirmity make you question your abilities. However, it’s vital to overall mental health. People who feel left to the whims of capricious fate are more likely to develop anxiety disorders — they constantly worry, “what’s going to happen to me?” This rumination can spiral into depression,
However, connecting with your elders and learning new things helps build your sense of agency. It also benefits your older loved one or relative.
4. It Allows Us to Understand and Accept the Aging Process
We often fear the unknown. Many people may fight the aging process because they believe it inevitably means decline. However, there are plenty of people in the older generation who maintain healthy, active lifestyles. Many continue to work and contribute to society — a glance at current political leadership demonstrates this principle.
However, people without much contact with this generation may have inordinate fears about aging. Connecting with your elders helps put these anxieties to rest. Having a 74-year-old run you ragged when you have an exercise date together can be a humbling experience, but it also reassures you that each passing birthday need not mean losing strength if you work it.
5. It Develops a Sense of Purpose
The great German philosopher Nietzsche once wrote, “he who has a why to live can withstand almost any how.” Developing a sense of purpose and meaning in your life helps you become more resilient. Instead of falling into despair when you encounter obstacles, you embrace them as challenges to overcome on the way to your goal.
Connecting with your elders can help you develop your sense of purpose. You may find that your life’s mission includes caring for others. Perhaps you want to follow in an older relative’s footsteps, keep the family business going for another generation or carry on your grandmother’s mission to bring true equality to the female gender.
Your sense of purpose benefits your mental health by giving you a reason to keep going when things look grim. Admiring the challenges previous generations have overcome can encourage you that a better world is possible even amid dire news.
Why Connecting With Our Elders Is So Good for Our Mental Health
The recent trend toward multigenerational living could bring unexpected benefits. It could restore the sense of community so often lacking and enhance people’s mental health by letting different generations thrive together.
Connecting with our elders is good for our mental health for all the above reasons. Why not look for an opportunity to spend some time with an older relative or loved one today?
National Library of Medicine: The value of maintaining social connections for mental health in our elders
Focus on The Family: Connecting With Our Elders