In this blog, author Maggy Pigott shares her personal experiences of ageing joyfully, explains why she wrote her first book at 67 and the eight steps to living better, for longer. Maggy will be giving a free The Joy Club Presents… talk to our members on 17th March, who can click here to sign up.
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‘You only live once but if you do it right once is enough’. – Mae West
I’ll soon be celebrating reaching 70 and it’s my plan to live in as good health as possible, for as long as possible. I imagine many of you feel the same.
So, I’m delighted to be speaking on 17th March at The Joy Club Presents… about ‘How to Age Joyfully’, and hope you’ll join me.
‘Work gives you meaning and purpose …’ – Stephen Hawking
I’m neither a doctor nor gerontologist. I qualified as a barrister, joined the Civil Service and spent 37 years dealing with the administration of justice, including in a CEO role. I was one of the very few lucky ones, achieving work/life balance back in the 1980s, as once I had children, I worked part-time and then job-shared for 23 years. Throughout my career I promoted flexible working, and still do, and am privileged to be a Vice Patron of Working Families.
I was overjoyed to receive a CBE, a totally unexpected honour and a very big cherry on a wonderful cake!
But in 2011 aged 59, after months of illness, I had to retire. Giving up a career I loved was hard; I missed my work, health, colleagues, a purpose, salary and more. It was a difficult couple of years.
‘It’s no longer a question of staying healthy. It’s a question of finding a sickness you like!’ – Jackie Mason
That was not my first period of ill health. Each time I’ve recovered (thanks to medics, an ever-growing stack of pills and supportive family and close friends), I’ve appreciated anew having (reasonably) good health. Then, in my mid-60s, I realised I’d never been happier and my happiness has continued to grow over the last five years. What had happened?
‘We should consider every day lost on which we have not danced at least once’ – Nietzsche
I’d discovered dancing in my 50s, sadly with no partner as my husband hates to dance. I had to give up when I fell ill, only returning to classes after a long break.
It was so good to be back, and gradually I got fitter, lost weight and was positively transformed physically, mentally and socially – although my skills barely improved. I began with Latin dance, moved on to fabulous Argentine tango and ballet, and later (despite a continuing lack of talent), became a member of a company for older dancers. Incredibly, I’ve taken part in performances, on stage and in various unusual locations, including Trafalgar Square and a shopping centre! If I can dance, anyone can, and I’m now thrilled to be an Ambassador for Para Dance UK, (tagline ‘Everyone Can Dance’).
‘We can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone’ – Theodore Roosevelt
Helping causes I’m passionate about has also brought me much happiness.
I found an inspirational charity for those over 50 called Open Age, where I’ve benefited from doing new creative and physical activities, including singing, art and Chi Gong. Impressed by – and grateful for – Open Age’s work, I became a Trustee and am now Vice Chair. Serving on the Public Service Honours Committee has been another, hugely rewarding, voluntary role. I’m in awe and humbled by so many people’s enormous commitment to voluntary service.
‘No wise man ever wished to be younger’ – Jonathan Swift
Restored health, fewer responsibilities, more choice, freedom, and time for family and friends, (both old and new), cultural activities, dancing, and voluntary work – all these have contributed to my happiness and appreciation of the multiple benefits of being older. I wanted to share this unexpected revelation, to counteract all the negativity surrounding ageing. So, I started Age Joyfully – @AgeingBetter on Twitter – which I love. Positive ageing is clearly popular, as it has over 8,000 global followers, and grows weekly.
‘If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves’ – Thomas Edison
But many older people are not on Twitter, and as I couldn’t find a book on ageing well that was widely accessible, uplifting, practical, yet based on evidence and research, I thought I’d try to write one. I also thought a book might raise funds for Open Age. After a lot of hard work, ‘How to Age Joyfully: Eight Steps for a Happier, Fuller Life’ was born. I loved writing it, but never really believed my chosen publisher would accept it, or that Dame Judi Dench would agree to write the foreword. Miraculously, both happened. It was published in 2019 in the UK, when I was 68, and in the USA and Canada in 2020, with 50% of my royalties going to Open Age. I found myself on the radio, including BBC Radio 4’s ‘Woman’s Hour’, giving talks and featuring in magazines – an exciting and scary new world!
I hoped the what, why and how in the book – with about 150 low-cost/free tips and even more inspirational quotations – might motivate and help readers and I’m thrilled the positive feedback and reviews seem to endorse that. Professor Sir Muir Gray, the international Public Health guru has generously called ‘How to Age Joyfully’ “an outstanding book”.
‘A manifesto for living better longer’ – Sir Muir Gray
I will cover the eight steps on 17th March. They apply whether you’re 19 or 91 and I believe they’ve become even more relevant and important since the pandemic.
In summary, the actions, attitudes or behaviours are:
- Physical activity – move more, sit less (MOVE);
- Eating the right foods, in the right quantity, and avoiding obesity (EAT RIGHT);
- Having a purpose – ‘ikigai’ (PURPOSE);
- Making and retaining strong social connections (CONNECT);
- Lifelong learning and trying new experiences (GROW);
- Being grateful for what you have and who you are (BE GRATEFUL);
- Giving to others – and yourself (GIVE); and
- Having a positive attitude to life and ageing (BE POSITIVE).
You may have guessed a few from my story – apart from EAT RIGHT which I’ve struggled with this last year, despite lots of tips in the book. These steps have enabled me to find a new joyful stage of life, with different priorities and goals. They’ve even sustained me through most of lockdown, although I felt some issues requiring hospital help were uncalled-for extra challenges. But, on the positive side, they made me worry less about COVID-19, and, as all had successful outcomes, they provided opportunities for several celebrations!
‘And finally….’ – Sir Trevor McDonald
If you want to age joyfully and are tempted to get my book for yourself, or as a small gift, it’s available online at Amazon and other websites and booksellers.
For more blog posts from Maggy, visit her website https://www.howtoagejoyfully.com