A few days ago my father-in-law celebrated his 100th birthday. Someday a lot of people may reach that milestone, but today few do. What impresses me is not that he made it (a testimony to his genes more than his less-than-healthy lifestyle), nor that he remains cognitively sharp. What impresses me is his amazing positive attitude. Almost always, he is “up.” He sees opportunities, even at his age. He finds reasons to laugh, celebrate, get excited.
Duane grieved deeply when his wife died. But he rebounded, set a new course (he was 90), and move forward. At his 100th birthday party, he entertained four generations of family members with witticisms that could be on his gravestone.
Presumably by the luck of the genetic “draw,” some of us run on the depressive end of a mood spectrum: seeing the dark and ominous side of every development, the glass half empty. Others, like my father-in-law, see what’s possible, visualize the positive, and make it happen. I just read a book by Dean Karnazes, who embodies this grab-life-by-the-horns approach and inspires others.
Good parents help their more anxious, depression-prone kids to modulate their darker thoughts and world view. They move these young people further to the optimistic, resilient end of the mood spectrum. Truly, it’s not immutable. People can learn to see the good possibilities. CBT and most therapies try to help in that vein.
I think my centenarian father-in-law inherited good genes. But he also made conscious choices over his long life, and he benefited from many of them and achieved joy and a sense of purpose.
-Alan J. Gelenberg, M.D.
Editor, Biological Therapies in Psychiatry
Shively/Tan Professor and Chair, Psychiatry, Penn State University
Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Clinical Psychiatry