I have good news for you from the Land of Old Age. People in their eighties and nineties are unexpectedly happy. No matter what their situation, most people are happier than they thought they would be. After decades of dreading getting old, once they are undeniably old, they look around and say, “This is not so bad after all. I am enjoying myself.”
The gifts of old age don’t get much attention in the media or in our psychology books. I learned about them doing the research for my book Eightysomethings and from interviewing 128 diverse people in their eighties living in all regions of the US. And, of course, from my own experiences.
1. Modern medicine.
Modern medicine keeps us alive, and, for the most part, pain-free. Being alive is itself a tremendous gift of modern medicine. Modern medicine enhances the quality of our lives as well. All sorts of drugs, surgeries, procedures, and therapies are available to us to deal with serious diagnoses. And other kinds of remedies and physical therapies are there for our less critical aches and pains. Counselors and psychotherapists can help us with our depression and anxiety. We complain about our healthcare, but we know we are lucky to be in the US.
At long last, after a lifetime of being too busy, when you are in your eighties, there is usually no need for an alarm. You can wake up slowly. You can ask yourself, “Now what do I want to do today?” And you do not have to hustle and get going on a relentless schedule of duties and obligations. Gone are most of the oughts and shoulds. Even more important, you are no longer striving to achieve. You are free to just be.
3. Living in the Now
Older people are finally able to live in the now—-something they have probably tried to do for decades. Old people don’t spend much time stewing over the past, wishing they had gone to a different college, married later, maybe to a different person, or been more successful. They have let that stuff go. And they don’t focus on the future either—it is so uncertain. All they want to plan for is a year or so. It is their payback time. They worked hard and took care of others, now it is rightfully their time to sit back and relax. Time to savor the morning coffee and the beautiful tree outside the window. Time to let others care for them.
4. Time for Friends and Family
Older people now have time to spend with friends and family. All those years they said to friends, Let’s have lunch soon” and rarely did. Now there is time. And time for the grandkids and grown children. When my grandchildren who live one town over were little, I loved spending Tuesday afternoons with them. Now I enjoy all the holidays in a way I never did when I was responsible for all the preparations. So much more pleasant now.
5. More Equanimity
Older people, on the whole, are less angry and less worried than younger folks. There is research on changes in the brain that explains why this happens. Older people respond more to positive images and messages and less to negative and depressing ones. So couples fight and bicker less, people in their eighties avoid dark and violent movies, and are more patient with annoying behavior. And it seems Mother Nature, in the terms of our brains, makes this a little easier for us. And we understand so much more.
If you see the glass a bit more full, if your fear of the future and your dread of aging is just a little less after reading this blog, I will have achieved my goal. You have much to look forward to…the gifts of old age are there for you.