Tornstam defined the first thesis in Sweden in the field of gerontological sociology in 1973. This model (Gerotranscendence) suggests that human longevity includes the potential for a transcendent movement away from the materialistic and rational point of view common in the first half of life. His research suggests that successful completion of such a shift is accompanied by an increase in life satisfaction.
The theory of gerotranscendence grew from the decades Tornstam spent in making careful observations of people living in old age. The papers he has written in support of this theory run in to hundreds of pages but the essentials of his work are easily grasped:
1. Self confrontation occurs – ca continuing process of discovery that reveals previously hidden aspects of self, both good and bad.
2. There is a decrease in self-centeredness. With an increasing awareness that the individual is not at the centre of the universe, there is a change from egoism to altruism.
3. There is rediscovery of childhood and the pleasure of recalling episodes from one’s childhood.
1. The character and importance of social contacts change in late life. Older people become more selective and less interested in superficial relationships. There is an increased need for solitude.
2. A distinction between one’s self and one’s role becomes increasingly obvious.
3. Attitudes to wealth change. There is less acquisitiveness and a greater awareness that possessions can ensnare and confine a person.
4. There is a new found joy in transcending nonsensical social norms. This developmental trend is behind the popular declaration ‘when I get old I will wear purple’.
5. A deeper appreciation develops for the large grey areas separating right and wrong. This is accompanied by an increasing reluctance to give advice to others.
1. Time and space long thought to be fixed and unchanging are now seen as possessing blurred boundaries. Past and present sometimes merge, and the immediate presence of long absent relatives can be sensed.
2. There is often a renewed interest in genealogy and one’s relationship with past generations.
3. The fear of death recedes. The curiosity about what comes next may develop.
4. There is a renewed interest in nature and connections with the vast living world that surrounds us all.
Does this ring true with you??
What are the spiritual challenges and opportunities that these perspectives open up for us?