What would you have taken up as a hobby in your 40s or 50s if you had known you’d live to be 100? Then it suddenly dawns on you that you will be old for more than half of your life. But are you really old in your 40s or 50s or do you need to redefine your reality?
A change in attitudes and perception is needed, especially when people aged 60 and above are thought to outnumber 10 to 24-year-olds in 2050, according to the United Nations. We’ve been made more aware of our negative attitudes towards age when many of our friends and family suddenly turned old on Facebook with the help of an app. I at least realised I’d make a very sad old lady if I don’t take action immediately. So let’s look at the type of habits or traits that can make aging a more fun experience, with some inspiration from a booklet part of The School of Life series I found in the library on How to age.
But before we begin, you might argue that there have been worst times to be old, like when old people would be thrown off cliffs or eaten because their upkeep endangered the survival of the others. Maybe a bit exaggerated and hard to conceive, when now we have great life care for a global average life expectancy of 72. There have also been better times as well, when the old were cherished for being the exclusive holders of knowledge or when age was a sign of distinction. Words like senate (Latin senex meaning the elder) remind us of the value once attached to old age.
What has happened in the meantime? Our consumerism culture has become highly attached to beauty and our physical self. The rapid technological progress quickly makes any knowledge obsolete so we often mock the old for their old-fashioned views. We no longer live under the same roof with three generations and are deprived of the consciousness of our own ephemerality which would help emphatise. We generally have few interactions or close relationships with other age groups.
So which traits or attitudes should we develop?
Repetition and belonging: tied in with the joy of missing out. As you age, you might want to or have to stick more to the same routines. There might not be as much change, variety or moving around. It’s crucial to feel at ease with your surroundings.
Nurturing genuine connections: whether it’s reminiscing about the past with life-long friends or bonding with new ones you just met. A Harvard study on happiness has shown that overall happiness is dependent more on genuine relationships than any other factors.
Growth mindset: if you’re into exploring, you won’t get bored. So many new skills, places and sensations to discover even after you retire. And then you’ll have so much more time!
Sense of self and gratitude: being aware of your choices and how these shaped who you are can keep regrets at bay. Connecting the dots by looking at your life holistically and feeling grateful for everthing that happened. This is of utmost importance when you have a lot of time on your hands to relive the past. As life becomes more stable and less eventful, filled with small moments, what does the future look like for us if we can only feel thankful for big achievements? But most importantly, you are not your body! Sad sad old age if we see ourselves as just a pretty face and lead an oversexualised life deriving satisfaction mostly from bodily sensations and our romantic conquests, ignoring all other life dimensions. I cannot stress this enough.
Letting go and optimism: we will shed many skins as we get older, so it’s important we don’t hold on bitterly to different versions of ourselves, relationships that end, people who pass away, properties that burn down or money we lose. Instead, look forward to the opportunities that will come to replace them.
Accepting help graciously and our vulnerabilities: there will come a time when some help might become essential, so accepting it as a sign of humanity, love and care is better than rejecting it stubbornly and pushing others away. Having to accept help could prove extremely painful in a culture of continuous empowerment, where we are taught to take pride in our independence and our achievements: need no man, can carry my bags perfectly, see these clothes – I bought them. A culture that despises interdependency like in the form of benefits or pension payments.
Laughing at yourself : when you stumble and fall down and can have a good laugh at yourself you know you’re on the right track. This also reminds me of the silly American series Married with children where Al Bundy makes it throughout his married life through self-satire.
Becoming and not being: realising that in each moment we transform and that there is beauty in every stage of life.
Phones now come with automatic face retouching filters. Time to switch them off: I’ve earned these lines! And I wrote the story behind them.
What top traits did I miss?