My New Old Self launched a real world version of this online blog – with a column in the local newspaper.
Can’t read a word of the column above? It was easy enough to make the blog-to-newspaper transition, but it’s harder to go the other way. A newspaper column’s dimensions are hard to fit on a web page. Here’s the readable version:
I recently found myself at a gathering where no one else was my age. Or even close to it. As I settled into the shadows with a drink, their conversation turned to 40th birthdays. Which most of them had yet to celebrate. Was this the perfect opportunity to chip in: “Speaking of bye-bye 39, did you hear that 50 is the new 40?” My New Old Self kept quiet.
The older we get the more we’re told to embrace our age and take pride in the decades we’re notching up. Yet we tend to ignore these exhortations and mark birthday milestones in denialism mode. I fear that one day, if I’m still around, I won’t be revelling in becoming a centenarian and proclaiming, loud and proud, “I made it to 100!” Instead I’ll be wearing a badge that says “100 is the New 90!”
Embrace it or deny it, time won’t stop marching on. As octogenarian Nobel-winning writer Alice Munro put it: “There’s nothing you can do about it and it’s better than being dead.”
What’s new about getting old is that more of us are doing it now than ever before in human history. We expected the world to get more crowded, but with declining birth rates and improved health care it’s the elderly taking up space in their burgeoning numbers. By 2050 the world will have more people over 60 than children under 15. Yet another challenge is that developing countries are aging fastest.
Fear of Not Dying
Nice to have company, too bad about the timing. Those born between 1946 and 1964 grew up in boom times but are aging in hard times. The recession has messed with our financial planning – assuming we did any – forcing many of us into unexpected early or semi retirement. Or making us worry that we’ll have to soldier on at work until the bitter end. If they let us (one more worry).
Rather than rejoice in the unprecedented longevity, we’ve found something new to dread: living too long. Thanataphobia is the psychological term for an abnormal fear of dying. Will we soon need a term for the fear of not dying before exhausting our retirement savings? What is that fear like for those growing old in Africa’s shacks and huts, or while coping with “austerity” in Europe? Even without financial concerns age brings stresses, in caring for elderly relatives, visiting sick friends, mourning deaths.
Aging’s Up Side
So you’re thinking, if you’re going to carry on with all this bad news I’m out of here. I’ve got things to do, anti-wrinkle cream to smear on, anti-Alzheimer’s crosswords to finish. Well, stick around because I can report both from my elders’ accounts and personal experience that growing older has positive aspects. Not enough for a list of 100 Great Things About Getting Old, but definitely several that aren’t so bad. From the prospect of grandchildren to senior discounts to finally mastering the art of Being in the Moment. Of course that last one becomes a lot easier when you can’t remember what you did the moment before.
There’s more good news in the many scientific studies showing that the older we get the happier we are. Research by the London School of Economics supports the U-shaped theory of happiness: it declines before and increases after middle age, “driven by unmet aspirations which are painfully felt in midlife but beneficially abandoned later in life”.
There is also evidence that it can make our lives more meaningful to examine what we did in the past and consider what we still want to do. This can be especially satisfying if done with others. With so many baby boomers entering old age together, we should be able to take advantage of numbers and common experiences to support each other through the challenges of aging. And if there are indeed delights that come with age, we can discover them together.
About My New Old Self
My Old Young Self used to work long hours. The economic downturn brought less work and lower pay, but somehow I was still working as hard as ever. After awhile I began to wonder how long I could keep drawing the last drops of water from this well. Would I manage to coast out the next few years and eventually accept underemployment as enforced semi-retirement?
Enough Half-Empty Glass questions. The Half-Full Glass approach might be to acknowledge that less, in terms of pressures, responsibilities and long hours, can mean more time and space for valuable reflection. Which could lead to finding new things I can and want to do. For the rest of my life. Whether it’s for pleasure or pay – ideally both.
In the meantime I’m busy testing that theory about these next years being the best ever. I’ll let you know how it’s working out.
This column is from the blog, My New Old Self: What to do next for the rest of my life. Visit the site at www.mynewoldself.com and follow @mynewoldself on Twitter.