LIFELONG LEARNER: Dr Prudence Millear
LIFELONG LEARNER: Dr Prudence Millear

WELLBEING: The professor lectures on a happy way to age

IN 1986, a sighting of Hayley's Comet promised a dazzling vision, but despite the star's extraverted reputation, it defied our expectations and from an Aussie viewpoint, it made a very introverted sort of orbit. There was disappointment all around, but never fear, since the mythic minded comet repeats the journey every 75-76 years, there is time for a glittering redemption.

Fifty-six-year-old University of Sunshine Coast Professor Prudence Millear, is one person who's highlighted the comet's 2016 return date in her diary.

"Yes, I'm looking forward to it, she said.

"I would be 104 by then, and if I'm going to be around, I want to be healthy and happy.”

The Sunshine Coast University Professor boasts a PhD in Psychology and among other things lectures in the subject of Adult Development and Ageing.

She opens her arms wide to express her wide and wonderful ageing philosophy.

"Stay engaged in life,” she advises.

"Don't miss the spider web on the grass on a cold winter's morning.

"Or wonder if a mackerel sky will bring rain.”

Psychology is the second career path for the country girl whose first tertiary degree was Agricultural Science. Dr Millear commenced psychology studies in 2002 with a Graduate diploma. She described this fresh period of personal reinvention as one of 'embracing life'.

"I felt unfurled,” she said.

Armed with new knowledge and at a certain age, she sought to identify and shape her own pathway into older adulthood.

"There came a point at a family dinner party when I looked around and considered the personalities at the table,” she said.

She observed the happier older adults communicated with a positive attitude, they were the curious ones, the ones with eyes and minds wide open. That's who she wanted to be.

Dr Millear does not dismiss the great benefits of good diet and exercise as important factors contributing to healthy ageing, but above all that she is an aficionado of positive attitude.

She says that it's attitude that allows you to make your choices about diet, exercise, relationships, finances and finally, it is those choices that define you as an older person.

To explain the point, Dr Millear refers to the psychologist Erik Erikson who proposed a theory of psychological development comprising eight stages from infancy to adulthood The last stage, which starts around 65 years of age, is the 'ego-integrity vs despair' stage.

"This is time of life when if you have made the right choices you can look back and feel satisfied, we have come to a time of wisdom,” Dr Millear said.

"But if you haven't and you look back with regret, it's a time of despair.”

"And it's completely up to you.

"No one can make those choices for you.”

"Push out into the world,” she advises.

Her courses attract students of all ages and she doesn't see one group as having it better than the other.

"For young students, it's all 'could be' career, success, kids,” she said.

"For older students, you've done it.”

Nevertheless, she sees everyone as facing challenges; younger students are battling with part-time jobs, relationships and growing up, and older students may have responsibilities for mortgages, children, and their own parents.

"But, don't let it stop you, push out into the world - forget your limitations,” she says.

Dr Millear backs up her positive attitude ethos with scientific evidence.

She quotes from* two books by George E Valliant M.D. which follow a Harvard study of people their teens to old age. Commencing in 1938 the books charted the emotional and physical health of 824 people, into their mid-50s, then 80s and over. It highlights behaviours that make for happy longevity and those that result in illness and early death. Ultimately, the reports agrees to one point - positive attitude leads the way to happy ageing.

**Aging Well: Surprising Guidelines to a happier life from the landmark Harvard Study of a adult development.(2003) George E Vaillant M.D.

Triumphs of Experience: The Men of the Harvard Grant Study. (2012) Geoge E. Vaillant M.D.