I remember my first day on the kibbutz in Israel. I was a twenty something Catholic girl from Montreal moving into a community I knew very little about; frankly, I was overwhelmed. Over my three months stay as a volunteer, I would be rotated through working in the kitchen, laundry, orange groves, cotton fields and helping with young children. I made friends among the volunteers and the kibbutzniks; I learned about a rich culture of collaboration, kindness and inclusion. The overwhelm I felt at the start was replaced with a feeling of deep admiration and connection with a community that felt more like family.
The aspect of kibbutz life that impressed me the most was how families were integrated and elders were revered. I enjoyed many conversations with older people, who had settled the kibbutz and soaked up insights from them on the importance of sustainable gardening and the beauty of growing older. They felt their importance in the kibbutz culture and when I came back to Canada, I was reminded of how we’ve had it so wrong for so long. I knew we were missing the gift of being able to hang out with and learn from people who have accrued a lot of wisdom over their lifetime.
Many years later, when I learned about The Wellings model of community living, something resonated deeply with me. In my mid-sixties at the time, I was now becoming one of those older people and I recognized that there was a great wave of us entering an important stage of life. We’re interested in being active, social, feeling part of community and we want to choose how we invest our precious time. The folks who designed The Wellings communities recognize that we are all important and we matter. I feel honoured and excited about the work we do to support people in making the next chapter of their life one of the best.
When we are part of a community that wants the same things such as comfort and convenience, connection with others and freedom to do as we please, the only thing we must do is realize how to maximize the experience. None of us are irrelevant, regardless of our age or our abilities. We need to accept that there will be challenges, just like every other stage of life but we don’t want our challenges to define our experience.
Which brings me to the subject of happiness and the question: what really makes us happy? The first answer most people give is either family, children or grandchildren which translates to feeling seen and feeling part of community. While we all have something to contribute to our family and our community at every stage of life, having an open mind and an open heart as we age means we’re receptive to new ideas, we’re interested in hearing other people’s stories, and we want the best not only for ourselves but for everyone in the community.
Once we have clarity around what’s important to us or what makes us happy, we can prioritize that in our everyday activities. One thing we must understand is that if we want to feel valued by others, we must make the first move and show others why we’re valuable instead of waiting for others to acknowledge it in us. If we want to feel kindness in our community, instead of waiting for others to show kindness to us, we need to pledge to be kind to others.
Kindness is one of the most important qualities in any human being at any age and it’s powerful. Dr. David Hamilton a physicist turned kindness expert explains that every act of kindness we do impacts at least five people: first, you benefit because your brain produces dopamine (known as helpers high). When you feel good, you produce oxytocin, which causes the release of nitric oxide, which reduces blood pressure and is said to be cardio protective. Oxytocin is also said to slow aging by reducing inflammation in the body. We are all wired for kindness so when we’re kind it’s much easier to make connection and form relationships. Obviously, the person receiving your kindness benefits and so does anyone who observes the act of kindness and anyone they tell about it. Added bonus: kindness is contagious, so you never know who you’re inspiring by being kind.
There are so many mixed messages in our culture about getting older and we want to support ideas such as ageless living, where your age doesn’t matter but who you are does. Just like life on the kibbutz, we want to encourage cooperation and collaboration in community instead of complaining and above all we want everyone to know that they are important, and they matter.
Reading reference: The Five Side Effects of Kindness Dr. David Hamilton, Hay House 2017