Monday, December 07, 2015

The Best Years of Your Life

When I was young, there was no respect for youth.
Now there's no respect for the old.
I missed it both times!
                                Milton Berle (or so he claims)

When you were a teenager, were you ever told, "Enjoy this time, it's the best years of your life?" What a stupid thing to say. Youth is wasted on the young, and for most people, youth is hardly the best years of life.
Ours is a youth-obsessed culture, demanding living in the now with youthful gusto. Who has time for lessons learned and the wisdom that comes with age? Here's one example that only older people know: All this excitement about legalizing marijuana is being fomented by people who know nothing of the exhaustive social and scientific marijuana research conducted in the 1930s and the harmful biological effects in the 1970s.  Older scholars know about this, but younger ones seem woefully uninformed and uninterested in "old" research. Actually, that often applies to old research in all fields.
We are all going to get old, assuming we don't die first. Our friends, relatives, and loved ones are or will get old. As baby boomers retire, older people are coming to dominate the population. Modern medicine and the wide pursuit of healthier living styles have enabled many older people to live longer and remain vigorous and productive in their old age. Yet, in this country and many other Western countries, we shun, neglect, and sometimes abuse the old. This is the theme of a recent blog by the CEO of a medical products company, Sue Chen.
Chen contends that as people age, others lose interest in engaging with them. A recent National Research Council study indicated that older adults are stigmatized as a group. Older people are treated like old people in social groups and in the workplace. Less is expected of seniors. Seniors in turn expect less of themselves. Chen asserts that younger people shun the elderly and don't want to think about aging because they are afraid of their own impending aging. They know that older people become more socially isolated and that the loneliness is magnified when divorce or death causes the loss of a spouse. Children are unintentionally conditioned to have negative bias about older people. Young families often shut out older parents, aunts, and uncles. We seem to have abandoned the "extended family" concept that was so wholesomely dominant only a few decades ago.
Fear of further aging and being sick and lonely grows with each passing year. Fear of aging is unwarranted, at least for healthy seniors with sufficient retirement income. Actually, one's later years can be the best years of life. Helen Hayes, at age 73, said "The hardest years are between 10 and 70." Paul Meyer, upon reaching 70, claimed that "Life begins at 70." By that time we all have accumulated a "rich reserve" of life experiences and lessons learned. He tries to do all the things he has always done. He points out some of the many advantages of old age, such as people expecting less of you. What you do accomplish makes a bigger impression because it isn't expected. At 70 you have more choices. You can act your age or act young. You can do things you didn't have time for in the past, particularly "smelling the roses." You can take naps without feeling guilty. You feel less guilty about the way you raised your kids, because now they know just how hard raising kids is and are having many of the same difficulties and angst as you did. Time becomes precious, because it is running out. You therefore spend it more wisely. You don't waste time on harmful emotions or personal animosities.
Now at 81, my experience is consistent with what Hayes and Meyer concluded.  I am, even though semi-retired, more efficient and almost as productive in my profession as when I "retired." Amazingly, I have discovered more free time to work. And now, I get to do what I want to do, not what others want me to do. But the biggest advantage of aging, as I see it, is that older people have typically learned more about how to cope with disappointment and adversity and how to squeeze the sweet and good juice out of life.
In the absence of debilitating sickness, aging can be a great blessing. There are many things people can and should be doing to make the senior years the best years of their lives. These include eating well, exercising frequently and vigorously, constructing a positive emotional attitude, becoming more active in mental and social life, getting frequent medical checkups, and most of all I think, living with an honorable purpose.

To know more about aging well, check out my e-book, Improve Your Memory for a Healthy Brain. Memory Is the Canary in Your Brain's Coal Mine, available at Smashwords.com. My "Improve Learning and Memory" blog is at http://thankyoubain.blogspot.com.

Sources:

http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195138931.001.0001/acprof-9780195138931-chapter-4. Accessed Oct. 17, 2015.

Chen, Sue (2015). What you don't know about aging could kill you. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/hippo-reads/what-you-dont-know-about-_9_b_8091512.html


Meyer, Paul J. (2000). Making the rest the best. Chicken Soup for the Golden Soul. Deerfield Beach, Fl.: Health Communications.  p. 480-486.

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