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Reflection on Flourishing after 50

Posted Mon, 05/30/2022 - 16:48 by Lazzaro

My first project since joining CCJ as a Scholar-in-Residence was running an on-line course in partnership with the Jewish Volunteering Network and 2020 Torah, an on-line Jewish learning community. ‘Flourishing after 50: Positive Psychology, Adult Development and the Search for Meaning’ was inspired by George Vaillant’s wonderful book Aging Well. Old age, he says, is a minefield; when you see someone who has successfully negotiated the challenges, you would do well to walk in their footsteps. Vaillant argues that the biggest key to successful aging is building positive relationships throughout our lives. Beyond that, the specific tasks of later life include cultivating gratitude, forgiveness, spirituality, and the ability to be playful and to create.

We then examined Arthur Brooks’ book From Strength to Strength which, amongst other wise advice, counsels us to create a ‘reverse bucket list’ – instead of working through a list of desired experiences (apparently ‘ride in a hot air balloon’ is consistently at the top of many such lists), Brooks suggests we list our worldly aspirations and then ask ourselves what will genuinely make us happy. His own answers invariably fit under four headings: faith, friendship, family, and meaningful work. Once we’re clear on what really matters, we can go back to our original bucket list and remove anything that might distract us from the genuinely meaningful ways we could spend our time and resources.  Brooks also emphasises David Brooks’ (no relation) distinction between ‘resume virtues’ and ‘eulogy virtues’, and counsels us to emphasise the latter as we mature.

We then looked at David Brooks’ book The Second Mountain, exploring the idea that in the second half of life, people often move away from the ego-driven need to climb the ‘first mountain’ (establishing an independent identity and career, making a name for oneself) towards ‘second mountain’ activities, based on a sense of vocation and the desire to shed the ego, cultivate intimate relationships and work collaboratively with others.

Guest speaker Nicky Goldman, CEO of JVN, cited research showing that over 50s who volunteer for about 2 hours a week have better health outcomes, enjoy better well-being, and even live longer than those who don’t. She also discussed the ways in which volunteering can enable us to enhance the elements of flourishing as defined by leading psychologist Martin Seligman.
 
In the final session, CCJ Trustee Patrick Moriarty drew on the thought of Richard Rohr to suggest that, from a Christian perspective, we might be better off viewing the tasks of the second half of life as those of ‘falling upwards’ and graciously dismantling what we have built in the first half, rather than ‘climbing’ a second mountain. Citing passages from Luke and Corinthians, as well as Malcolm Guite’s poem ‘Finished’, he facilitated a discussion between Jewish and Christian audience members about the images and metaphors that resonated most strongly for them. Perhaps unsurprisingly, some of the Jewish participants did not feel an affinity for the texts from the New Testament, although they appreciated the deep significance of these texts and metaphors for Christians.

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