"I'm never going to get old!" "I'm not afraid of dying, but I am afraid of getting old." "Why would anyone want to live to be 100?"
When I taught high school, my students often made statements like these. Why are our young people so turned off by the idea of getting old? We can blame it on our youth culture or we can pin it on the media, but older people must take some of the responsibility ourselves.
It's true that some health problems are associated with age and most grandparents suffer with at least one of them. But it's also true that the majority of older people still take great joy in living.
It's not just, as we sometimes joke, that getting old is better than the alternative. Aging has its positive aspects, but our culture doesn't celebrate them, and often we fail to mention them. It's time that we pointed out these advantages of growing older to our children and grandchildren:
- Career Perks: When it comes to the work world, many seniors have multiple options. They can continue to work until 70 in most professions, or they can choose to retire, or they can choose part-time or contract work. Others are retiring from their first careers and opting for encore careers, or turning hobbies into paying propositiions.
- More Time: Although there are exceptions, such as grandparents raising grandchildren, most seniors have more leisure time than they did when they were young. They can use this time to travel, to explore interests, to do volunteer work or simply to relax.
- Family Status: Although it was a shock to realize that I have become the family matriarch, the role carries a certain amount of gravitas. When grandparents speak, family members tend to listen, as long as we don't speak too often or expect too much.
- Wisdom: Although we may struggle with recalling facts, older people are blessed with improved judgment and greater emotional stability. That means that we are less likely to make decisions that we will regret.
- Increased Happiness: No one is exactly sure why, but people tend to get happier as they get older. Some think it is because we tend to focus on the present rather than the past and the future. Others say it is because we put less pressure on ourselves and cope better when things go awry.
- Grandchildren: Grandparents derive a great deal of pleasure from their grandchildren, but generally aren't responsible for child care and don't carry the burden of paying for them. Still, they can be significant presences in the lives of their grandchildren. See Also: 4 Reasons Children Need Their Grandparents
These are the serious benefits of aging, the ones we should be touting to young people. I am thoroughly enjoying my 60s, and I don't want my grandchildren to grow up dreading any age.
Besides, there are other benefits to being older, ones that we don't hear much about. When I don't feel like putting on makeup and doing my hair, I'm not accused of "letting myself go." I'm just old. I can nap in the afternoon without being regarded as lazy. I can sing along with elevator music, because I know all the words. And no one ever expects me to run.