Legacy Planning and the Impact on Aging Well
Here’s why, followed by a few creative ways to start planning your legacy (because it’s never too soon!).
Legacy Planning: It’s in Your Genes
Did you know that the desire to leave something behind is actually hard-wired into your brain? It stems from the primal urge to pass on your genes through children and grandchildren. According to Loretta G. Breuning, Ph.D., this urge also manifests itself in the desire to leave behind other types of legacies as well.
When humans do things that ensure the livelihood of their DNA (what Dr. Breuning calls “reproductive success”), the brain actually responds by releasing “happy chemicals”. These are neurochemicals such as Serotonin, Dopamine, Endorphins, and Oxytocin, which contribute to our well-being, motivation, and productivity.
Researchers already suspect that increased dopamine, for example, improves cognitive function in aging adults. And Serotonin is a major player when it comes to aging well, since it helps protect against depression. It’s partly the reason activities like gardening help ward off depression, too. It also adds to the functioning ability of your cardiovascular system, your endocrine system, and your muscles, according to the experts at WebMD.
Legacy Planning Comes in Many Forms
Interestingly, it doesn’t have to be actual reproductive success that fulfills our primal urges and stimulates those “happy chemicals”. Turns out other types of legacies work just as well.
In other words, your uniqueness can live on in all sorts of ways, not just through your DNA in kids and grandchildren. What type of legacy do you have in mind?
Your Legacy is as Unique as You Are
Everyone wants to be remembered, and we all hope we’ve contributed something of value to the world. We’ve just learned how legacy planning is good for the mind and the body. Of course it’s good for the soul, too.
Our innate desires to be remembered can take any number of forms. For some, that urge drives them to change the world with outstanding contributions to society. Curing polio, negotiating international peace treaties, or promoting civil rights are incredible legacies to leave behind, but most people take a much more modest approach to legacy planning.
Since your legacy is a unique expression of who you are and what your life means, don’t feel limited to the most obvious form: leaving an inheritance. You are much more than the sum of your property, so your legacy can reflect your life in any number of ways.
A Legacy Doesn’t Have to Change the World
Someday, your niece might take her daughter on a camping trip. As she explains about respecting the forest and lakes and how important it is to take care of the outdoors, she may flash back to the time you took her hiking. You instilled a love for the outdoors in her, and she’s passing that on to her daughter. That’s a precious legacy.
If you’d like to be more proactive with legacy planning, consider a memoir. Memoirs can come in any form: family history, the story of a relationship, or a focus on a particular place or event such as your family’s cabin in the woods or the experience of collectively running a multi-generational family business.
And if we circle back to the impact legacy planning has on aging well, it’s good to note that many psychologists believe writing memoirs has a therapeutic effect.
Leaving a legacy can be an important way to make important connections. Your legacy is your gift to the world, after a lifetime of continuous learning, reflection, and unique thoughts on how to make sense of the world. Whatever drives you to leave a legacy, and whatever form it may take, know that it has immense value both to yourself and to those who will benefit from receiving it.
Visit tips for boosting brain health to learn more about successful aging.