What does it mean to age successfully?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Under a developmental point of view, aging successfully means to be able to reach adulthood, a time of challenges and life changes, with as many cognitive, psychological, financial, and health attributes possible so that these life changing events can be endured, understood and ultimately accepted as facts of life. Without these attributes, chances are that adulthood and all its challenges may prove too trying and harsh for the unprepared individual, resulting in depression, inability to cope, and other dangerous behaviors. 

Erik Erikson's Psychosocial Development theory offers a very detailed hypothetical which shows what happens when individuals do not accomplish the expected age-appropriate challenges that surface throughout life. In his theory, Erickson offers that, from infancy, all humans are given a task to fulfill. Using the environmental and psychological tools that come with good parenting and growing, we can accomplish the task and then move forward developmentally. If we do not have the appropriate tools to face each developmental challenge, the result will be the opposite, meaning that we will instead develop a trauma that will prevent us from developing further. 

The stages are:

  • Trust vs. Mistrust; (infancy)
  • Autonomy vs. Shame & Doubt (toddler)
  • Initiative vs. Guilt (early school age)
  • Industry vs. Inferiority(school age)
  • Identity vs. Role Confusion (adolescence- young adulthood)
  • Intimacy vs. Isolation (adulthood)
  • Generativity vs. Stagnation (mid adulthood)
  • Integrity vs. Despair (elder years)

The two outcomes, juxtaposed against each other, represent a positive and a negative potential result of not developing safely nor properly during that time of life. Hence, someone who lives in a dysfunctional environment or most of her life will (in theory) see mistrust, shame, guilt, inferiority, role confusion, isolation, stagnation and despair as she ages, and especially during the twilight years. 

Think about the opposite scenario: an individual who has good parents, a safe environment, motivation, health (mental, as physical can't be addressed psychologically), and a great social support system of good teachers and peers. This individual will more than likely be able to enjoy the positive outcomes of development and, during his or her mid to elder years, these positive outcomes will result in a graceful, peaceful, and dignified late adulthood.