New York Times reporter and author visits Port retirees

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New York Times reporter and best-selling author John Leland will discuss his book “Happiness is a Choice You Make: Lessons from a Year Among the Oldest Old” with residents of the Amsterdam at Harborside in Port Washington on Thursday, March 14.

The not-for-profit Amsterdam at Harborside is the first and only life care retirement community in Nassau County. It provides the benefit of knowing other levels of care are right there if ever needed. The Amsterdam is passionate about helping residents live healthier, richer lives in retirement. It provides a wellness-focused environment that is physically, emotionally, socially and intellectually rewarding.

Leland followed the lives of six New Yorkers over the age of 85 for a year. These conversations first became a Times series and, last year, a book.

As Leland wrote in the Times, the series of articles “began the way most stories about older people do, with the fears and hardships of aging.”

But as the series went along, a different story emerged. “When the elders described their lives, they focused not on their declining abilities but on things that they could still do and that they found rewarding,” he wrote in the Times.

As Leland learned, older people report higher levels of contentment or well-being than teenagers and young adults. The six elders he followed put faces on this statistic.

If they were not always gleeful, he discovered, they were resilient and not paralyzed by the challenges that came their way. As Leland wrote, “All had known loss and survived. None went to a job they did not like, coveted stuff she could not afford, brooded over a slight on the subway or lost sleep over events in the distant future.”

Leland learned that this is what gerontologists call the paradox of old age: that as people’s minds and bodies decline, instead of feeling worse about their lives, they feel better. In memory tests, they recall positive images better than negative; under functional magnetic resonance imaging, their brains respond more mildly to stressful images than the brains of younger people.

The lesson he learned? “If you want to be happy, think like an old person,” Leland says.

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