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.