The human condition is to segment life; for instance, Shakespeare’s ‘seven ages of man’. Life is a little like the seasons so dress for the season whatever the weather is doing. Or like the ticking clock, ‘if that is the time then tired I must be.’
Society convinces us to age and feel bad, and we obey. When psychiatrist Ellen Langer started this experiment in 1979, she already had a reputation as a specialist preferring to confirm bold theories with even bolder practice. Ellen Langer’s speciality was in ageing and the concept of elderly people.
Three years earlier, she had become the author of a truly revolutionary experiment in the Arden House nursing home in Connecticut. During her experiments, she proved that care and consideration for those of mature years are not as good as it is to think. Acceptance of the ageing process will unnecessarily bring us to the grave faster than another disease. The experiment became part of the study of learned helplessness syndrome.
But Mrs Langer didn’t intend to stop there. She was going to completely destroy the dull eagle of old age and prove that we are as young as we think we are young.
Eight men were selected for the new experiment. The average age of those tested was 75 years old. All of them would relocate to a reconstructed monastery in New Hampshire for a week. The inquiry was centred on their expectancy as to what exactly awaited them at their new home. All that was required of them was to resist the temptation to take books, magazines or photographs that were less than 20 years ago.
When the eight men walked into a house where they were going to spend a week inexpensively and they would live in an alcohol-free environment.
Their surroundings suggested the newly arrived men had moved back to the past. Specifically; 1959 Black and white TV, old records, books on shelves, calendars, everything brought them back to their reality twenty years earlier.
Furthermore: participants were asked to dress and behave as if it’s really 1959. Accordingly, they are not dusty 75 years old, but a fierce 55.
At first, it seemed impossible. How do you simply cross out the last 20 years of your life? It quickly turned out that it was very easy. Out of touch with the outside world in which the then 1979 still reigned, men began to talk, live and even think as if they were in 1959.
The staff treated them accordingly: there were no suggestions to help deliver a heavy bag or rearrange the shelf. No reminders to take pills or go to the process-fool. Basically, they were on their own just as they would have lived independently twenty-years earlier.
The experiment produced amazing results after just one a week. Most men tested had improved posture, flexibility, muscle strength, vision (by 10 %) and memory. That is all the parameters that do not spare age. In addition, it turned out that 63% of participants at the end of the experiment had higher IQ test results than at the beginning.
The most interesting: the participants of the experiment had become younger in appearance. Before and after photographs of the participants in the experiment were shown to random people. After looking at the photos, it was considered that in the pictures the men looked three years younger on average.
That is, the experiment has proved that our well-being is directly dependent on our environment and the model it imposes. If you call yourself grandpa at 70, complain about your old age and ask everyone to take you across the road, you will feel like an old man.
But if you get courage and ignore the social request for grumpy pensioners, and until you die at 115 think that you are still 45, you have every chance to live not only a long, but also a healthy, active and happy life. Presumably, the same outcome would be expected if women instead of men had been invited to take part. And, who knows, with perhaps more impressive results.
In 2009, Ellen Langer wrote on the basis of her experiments the best seller Against the clockwise (Counter Clockwise).
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