Decide the kind of older person you want to be

My husband is professor emeritus of sociology, and after 40 years of being married to a sociologist, I posed a question to him.
The question: “What is sociology?”
Sociology, according to him, is the scientific study of social relationships—the study of behaviour of individuals and groups, and the way individuals and groups relate to each other in society.
My next question was “What is self-fulfilling prophecy?”
The trigger for those questions was an article I read in Time magazine about the death of Robert Merton, one of the most influential sociologists of the 20th-century.
Merton was born Meyer Schkolnick on July 4, 1910 in South Philadelphia, the son of Eastern European immigrants.
Coming from a poor family, Schkolnick was an enterprising young man. As a teenager, he made a career of performing magic tricks at birthday parties and adopted the stage name of Robert Merton.
The name stuck.
When Robert Merton died on Feb. 23 at age 92, he was called “Mr. Sociology.”
Merton’s publications were extraordinarily influential. At the time of his death, Merton’s writings had been cited in more than 17,500 published pieces. He also taught sociology at Columbia University for 38 years.
Remarkably, he never gave up working, regularly beginning his days at 4 a.m. And only four days before Merton’s death, Princeton University Press approved publication of the English version of his most recent book.
But what I found most interesting about Merton was that he was the person who coined the phrase “self-fulfilling prophecy.”
In answer to my question “What is self-fulfilling prophecy,” my husband explained that all social groups and individuals have self-perceptions which they consciously or unconsciously strive to realize.
Research indicates that self-fulfilling prophecies can occur in the classroom, in the medical field, in places of employment, and in almost any other type of environment.
A teacher expects a pupil to do poorly and he does poorly. A new employee thinks he will succeed and he does. A single-minded young man expects to become rich and he becomes rich.
Aging also can be affected by self-fulfilling prophecies. Says gerontologist Walter Bortz, “Aging is a self-fulfilling prophecy, and only you can decide the kind of person you’ll become.”
If you believe that aging is a matter of physical deterioration, forgetfulness, and depression, then likely that’s the way your aging will be. If, on the other hand, you have positive expectations of aging, you likely will age successfully.
Dr. Bortz says all the recent information on aging is good news. A combination of diet, exercise, and attitude determines how well people of 70, 80, or even 90 function.
So take charge of your aging. Expect the best, not the worst. Change your thinking habits. Don’t buy into society’s stereotypes of aging.
Focus on the positive aspects of growing older and expect to keep getting better the longer you live. After all, you have a lifetime of experiences to draw on.
And remember, you may not always get what you want in life, but you almost always get what you expect.
Marie Snider is an award-winning health care writer and syndicated columnist. Write her at or visit

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