I’m Ageing
Some of us are getting on a bit. OK, I’m getting on a bit. I turned 50 this year. This makes me (at least) middle aged. A few of my contemporaries have already died. I don’t feel panicked, but perhaps a little sobered. My parents (both 84) are still alive, so I haven’t experienced the difference that my parents dying will make. It looks like I have inherited good genes. I’m not feeling that I’m likely to die anytime soon, but I don’t have the youthful illusion of living forever any more either. It is time to take seriously that I am getting older, and that this has consequences.

This has lead me to thinking about what to do. Or, put another way, . . .

What is Aging Well?
There is actually a good book about this, Aging Well by George Vaillant. It is about the results of three longitudinal studies of Americans. They followed individuals from their young adulthood to their old age (the studies began around the 1930’s). These studies are a very precious resource. The drawback is that 2 of them studied the privileged – college and university students in the 1930’s; who were a very small and privileged minority at the time. The other studied working class people. So, there is no perspective from the poor (although the studies did include some who had lived below the minimum wage all their lives).

I’m going to do a series of posts about this book and what it means for us. But first I need to be up front about my values. Because . . .

To speak of “aging well” is a value judgement. To speak of some people aging well means we think that some do better than others. Possibly the most famous saying about this at the moment is from Steven Covey: Who ever died wishing they had spent more time at the office? Thinking about a good old age means making judgements about a good life.

What do we want for our old age?

  • To be physically healthy?
  • To look back on a lifetime of public service and achievement?
  • A bank balance with lots of zeroes in it?
  • Successful children?
  • To have produced a classic in my creative field?
  • To have lived true to my values?
  • More than one of these? Or perhaps all of them?

Thinking about my old age, confronts me with my values.

Here’s an exercise to try to help you confront your values. (You have probably come across it before, but I find it worth doing more than once.)
Imagine you are at your own funeral and that you get to give your own eulogy? What do you say as you look back on your life? (You can imagine the scene as if it was happening tomorrow or many years in the future.)

This can be a complicated business. For me health (to put it as simply as possible) has five ‘dimensions’: physical, emotional, mental, spiritual and social. A healthy old age means paying attention to each of these dimensions. I have come up with a simpler definition: joy. A healthy old age is one that has joy.

I would like to hear your thoughts. What do you think will be a good old age for you? Have you made plans about it? Are you doing things to guide you into it? Let me know in the comments for this post.

Would you like to feel less stressed?
Could you do with more joy in your life?

The answer is living authentically. Buy the book or sign up for the course now from my Living Authentically website.

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14 Comments to “A Good Old Age”

  1. […] Go here to read the rest:  A Good Old Age […]

  2. Adelaide says:

    Hi Evan.

    Was introduced to A Good Old Age (I mean, Aging well) by the Kazimierz Dabrowski e-group and it was a big study on gifted people.

    In 1996 I wrote my own eulogy.

    I want to have produced a classic in my creative field, lived true to my values and cared about other people and taken care of myself.

    In 2005 I wrote a living will. So far this has been my only plan for ‘a good old age’.

    What about the Henderson report? (as in the poverty line)?

  3. Adelaide says:

    Hi Evan.

    Was introduced to A Good Old Age (I mean, Aging well) by the Kazimierz Dabrowski e-group and it was a big study on gifted people.

    In 1996 I wrote my own eulogy.

    I want to have produced a classic in my creative field, lived true to my values and cared about other people and taken care of myself.

    In 2005 I wrote a living will. So far this has been my only plan for ‘a good old age’.

    What about the Henderson report? (as in the poverty line)?
    OH! You’re my new favorite blogger fyi

  4. Evan says:

    Hi Adelaide, thanks for your comment. I haven’t heard of the Kazimierz Dabrowski group. The Henderson poverty line I’m familiar with – not sure about how big an income I’ll need to have a good old age: so much depends on housing and fitness and growing your own food and so on. If it’s not rude to ask: What is your creative field?

  5. Marie says:

    Hi, Evan –

    I want to be wise in my old age.

    Oh, and, I want to still be riding my motorcycle.

    – Marie (Coming Out of the Trees)

  6. Jen says:

    Hi Evan,

    I am three years older than you and am also thinking about this as my children (who have been my main focus for the past 24 years) no longer need much input from me; I am trying to find a worthwhile way to spend the next third or so of my life. A clinical psychologist I saw suggested a variant on your eulogy idea which I found vey helpful. (The other variant I have read is to imagine you are on your deathbed, imagine what you regret not doing, and then find ways to do it.) The psychologist suggested imagining I am a little old lady in my rocking chair looking back on my life and what I have done, what I had enjoyed and really happy about remembering. This was useful for someone like me because the eulogy one makes me focus too much on whether what I have done is pleasing to other people, and the regrets one takes me back to the “shoulds and oughts” I was brought up with. I think also the rocking chair idea puts you in a happy place rather than the sadness of a deathbed or funeral.

  7. Adelaide says:

    Dear Evan:

    My creative field is writing. I began first of all as an essayist as well as a short story and novel writer. Specifically I write educational narratives or Bildungsromans aimed at children and those who are young in heart and spirit, as well as some of those who are old before their time.

    Kazimierz Dabrowski was a Polish psychiatrist who died in 1980 and he developed this important theory on human development called THE THEORY OF POSITIVE DISINTEGRATION. It talks about three factors: the biological factor, the social factor and the authentic/self factor; the last is developed through disintegrative experiences which can be disruptive and creative. If you would like to read more about him then talk to Bill Tillier of Canada and Elizabeth Mika of America. She writes a really excellent blog called Nowhere in the Middle full of thoughtful content which you will enjoy.

    An important distinction in Dabrowski is the ‘it’s all about me’ of the first stage (unilevel integration) versus the ‘I gotta be me’ of later (dis)integrations, which are on different levels, and there are big different choices which can change your life.

    Growing your own food: the seeds would cost about 50 cents or a dollar at the bare minimum, especially vegetables. Organic produce would cost five times as much. You would also want starch to run the car.

    Death can bring joy and relief, even if it is the dying which is painful. And death is many things, like unconsciousness (which may be unfair to those in a permanent vegetative state/coma).

  8. Evan says:

    Hi Jen, I think those are both better ways to do them – shall use them in future. Thanks. Let me know what ideas you come up with for the next third (or quarter) of your life. Thanks for your contribution.

  9. Evan says:

    Hi Adelaide. Thanks for your comment. Two comments in a row that I’ve got new insight from – it’s a good day. The theory of positive disintegration sounds very interesting, I’ll check out the blog. From a first few seconds look I like her thoughts on health care and profit being incompatible (and her dislike of Rush Limbaugh).

  10. Evan says:

    Me too – about the wisdom (not necessarily the motorbike). Thanks for your comment Marie.

  11. Hi Evan — thanks for this post. Personally I wouldn’t want to see anyone feeling as if they’re responsible for “living like an older person” — although what they want may naturally change as their bodies age. Ideally when I’m older I’ll be pursuing what feels true for me in the same way.

  12. Evan says:

    Hi Chris, I think I too, when I’m older will be wanting to pursue what is true for me. Thanks for your comment.

  13. yesterday, the mother of a good friend died after 4 years of struggle. my father-in-law has serious health problems, and my mother is beginning to deal with early signs of vascular dementia – so the question is very poignant to me today.

    one question we might ask, “good” from whose standpoint? mother teresa was good to the world until her dying days, and i presume she felt that what she did was the right thing from the point of view of her god; did she “enjoy” a good old age? i still haven’t read her biographies but from the excerpts i’ve seen i’m not too sure.

    my mother is thin and frail now; everyone is worried about her. when you ask her how she’s doing, she says, “fantastic!” – and it really sounds like she means it.

    phyllis chesler, one of the greats in the feminist movement, proudly talked about burning the candle at both ends. had she died of a heart attack due to her super busy lifestyle at 50, that would have been fine with her. she didn’t care for the good old age, she cared for what she was doing right here, right now. (she’s still going strong at 69, btw 🙂

    all, i think, interesting perspectives on aging.

    thank you for this stimulating discussion. i like the “rocking chair” question, too!

    two books that come to mind on the topic, both a little heavy on the self help but nevertheless with useful points of view:

    “younger next year” by chris crowley
    “ageless body, timeless mind” by deepak chopra

  14. Evan says:

    Hi Isabella, I hope you are doing OK with the grieving and the emotional stuff that these things involve.

    “Good” was mostly from the perspective of the one who was aging. For me it is about maintaining joy in life – which it sounds like your mother is doing. I think we can have a perspective that involves our personal experience and our situation. Phyllis sounds driven – but I don’t know the lady. I like a lot of Deepak’s stuff, though I don’t go all the way with our bodies can renew themselves indefinitely (lots of issues here I think). I haven’t read Younger Next Year.

    Thanks for your comment and I hope you are getting the love and support that I guess you need at the moment.

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