The empirically based theory of gerotranscendence was developed to address what I, Lars Tornstam, saw as a perpetual mismatch between present theories in social gerontology and existing empirical data.
With points of departure from my own studies as well as from observations made by others, together with input from other theorists such as Jung and Erikson, I have suggested that human aging, the very process of living into old age, include a potential to mature into something I have called gerotranscendence. Simply put, gerotranscendence is a shift in meta perspective, from a materialistic and rational view of the world to a more cosmic and transcendent one, normally accompanied by an increase in life satisfaction.
Gerotranscendence is regarded as the final stage in a possible natural progression towards maturation and wisdom. According to the empirically based theory, the individual moving towards gerotranscendence may experience a series of gerotranscendental changes or developments. These typically include a redefinition of the Self and of relationships to others and a new understanding of fundamental existential questions. The individual becomes, for example, less self occupied and at the same time more selective in the choice of social and other activities. There is an increased feeling of affinity with past generations and a decreased interest in superfluous social interaction. The individual might also experience a decreased interest in material things and a greater need for solitary "meditation". Positive solitude becomes more important. There is also often a feeling of cosmic communion with the spirit of the universe, and a redefinition of time, space, life and death. Elements in cultures and subcultures, as well as experiences in the individual life, can facilitate or impede the gerotranscendental process.
Gerotranscendence does not imply any state of withdrawal or disengagement, as sometimes erroneously believed. It is not the old disengagement theory in new disguise. Rather, it is a theory that describes a developmental pattern beyond the old dualism of activity and disengagement.
It is sure interesting when the 80+ Professor Emeritus Edmund Sherman, in his book Contemplative Aging: A Way of Being in Later Life (Gordian Knot Books, 2010), confess that:
… many of the things my colleagues and I have written about later life, based on the “objective” findings of gerontological research and practice, feel different when experienced personally.
As we have found, signs of gerotranscendental development are not seldom erroneously labeled as pathological by younger ones, including both children, old-age care staff – and, last but not least young gerontologists.
Gerotranscendence: A Developmental Theory of Positive Aging, Springer Publishing Company, New York (Also avaliable from Amazon, USA and Amazon, UK)
A two page easy to read informative leaflet for professionals
as well as the public at large.
Swedish psychology student Emma Rydén describes the way she and her life was positively affected by the theory of Gerotranscendence: My thoughts on aging