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Five life lessons from Margareta Magnusson: Author of ‘The Swedish Art Of Ageing Well’

— by Helen Johnson

 

‘Ageing is often difficult, but it doesn’t have to be if you approach it in a way that isn’t too filled with drama or dread. And if you can find a way to make ageing itself into an art, where you are creative in how you approach each day, perhaps it can be a little easier,’ says 86-year-old author Margareta Magnusson. In her latest book The Swedish Art of Ageing Well Magnusson shares her advice on the best ways to embrace life, age joyfully and accept change. She reflects on her life as an artist and mother of five, and suggests we should not live in fear of death but rather focus on connecting with our loved ones and appreciating beauty. The publishers, Canongate, have kindly let me share some of Magnusson’s musings here:

 

Keep an open mind. 

I must admit I have not been open-minded all the time. I just wish I had been. No matter how ancient you become there are always new discoveries; new mindsets through which to see your life and the experiences you have had. When you are over 80, it’s easy to be angry. There is new stuff all the time – new politicians, new countries, new wars, new technologies.. Everything is in fact new and getting newer all the time. You have two choices – be angry or go with the flow. Please try the latter. To accept, even enjoy, the changes can be really fun.

There is that funny phrase: ‘The older you get, the more it feels like breakfast comes every fifteen minutes.’

 

Don’t worry about wrinkles.

My mother-in-law used to say, ‘Lord, I look completely exhumed!’ She who had been one of the prettiest girls in Gothenburg, with boys lining up to ask for her hand. As she’d aged, in her eyes, my mother-in-law had come to think that she had become unattractive – when in reality she hadn’t. To the rest of us, a patina of warmth and a well-loved life shone visible in her face. Hinging your life on looking young is such a bad idea. There are other ways to feel young. Laugh and try to have as much fun as possible each day. To laugh is probably more effective than taking pills that might make us happy.

My body has borne five children, plus one who didn’t live. This body has died and awakened. This body has sheltered me in storms and baked an unholy number of cakes. This body has laughed and planted gardens. I will never put a knife to my skin for being wrinkled.

 

Volunteering makes you feel useful and good about yourself.

When you are my age it’s important to fill your mind and days with stuff to do; planning, helping, thinking and moving around as much as you can. You may have more free time than expected. While the world may not be ending, it can always use a little extra boost. Get involved – it will help you and it will help the world. I don’t have as much energy now, but I help seniors learn how to email and use the internet. When they successfully send their first email, I see a glow in their faces. Also, I’ve met so many nice people doing it; some even became lifelong friends.

 

Clean up after yourself as you go along.

When I am gone I want to have helped clean up the world. I understood much too late in life that this is important. But I am not dead yet and will spend every spare minute I have to live up to my friend Birgitta’s motto – ‘Don’t leave empty-handed.’  I think the principle of not leaving empty-handed can be applied to everywhere you go in life. If there are dirty clothes on your bedroom floor and you pass the laundry basket empty-handed that is not clever. The pile will only get bigger. Don’t leave empty-handed. When heading out the front door, take the garbage with you. Don’t leave empty-handed.

There are so many little ways to improve the world every day. The truth is that my generation has been really horrible when it comes to pollution and it has been very hard on the planet. Now I realise very late that I must clean it up. Most of us are too old to head to India to clean up the beaches or pick up crap on the highway, but we are not too old to get involved. We can organise; we can influence; some of us can donate, if not money, at least time. I would like to leave the planet with the woods looking like they did when I was a girl. I would like to see Bali surrounded by healthy coral reefs as it was when I was there in 1979. When I am gone I want to have helped clean up the world. I am not dead yet and will spend every spare minute I have to live up to Birgitta’s motto.

 

Take care of something.

Having something other than yourself to care for is always important, whatever age you are. A study has said that if you have plants to look after every day and water, you will live longer. From my own experience I agree with the findings of this study. While I have always been a gardener and still look forward to springtime when I can get out onto the little balcony of my apartment to look after the outdoor plants, I also have a few plants by the window in my living room. Although they don’t need to be watered every day, I make a daily habit of checking on them and watering them if they need it. I really do love the small daily habit of visiting them. Every day that I am alive and they are alive feels like a marvel.

 

 

From The Swedish Art Of Ageing Well by Margareta Magnusson. Copyright © 2022 by Margareta Magnusson

 

And don’t forget to wear your age with pride! We still have a few TNMA sweatshirts available HERE.

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