Maybe it’s human nature to always want to be something other than what we are.
When we are little kids, we want to be grownups, because we think they get to do whatever they want whenever they want.
As teenagers, we crave the freedom of young adults—no curfews, no homework, finally making some money of our own.
Once we hit middle age, our yearning pulls us in two directions—both back to our youth (as we realize how much we took for granted) and forward to our retirement (where we hope we can finally sit down for a minute).
And then, once we reach retirement, we may end up feeling like that’s not all it’s cracked up to be either.
It seems we can never be happy where we are. And this can be especially difficult as we get older. It’s easy to focus on the things that don’t work the way they used to (like remembering why we walked into the kitchen) and the things we feel are out of our reach (like dancing until dawn).
But, getting older definitely has its perks. We just need to do a better job of recognizing and appreciating them.
We have to shift our perception of “the golden years.” As Jane Fonda says in her 2011 TED Talk, “We’re still living with the old paradigm of age as an arch. That’s the old metaphor: You’re born, you peak at midlife and decline into decrepitude. … A more appropriate metaphor for aging is a staircase. The upward ascension of the human spirit, bringing us into wisdom, wholeness, and authenticity.”
To provide some inspiration, we’ve put together a short list to jumpstart your brainstorming.
1. Fewer Garden-variety Ailments
We won’t pretend that life as a senior is free from aches and pains, but what a lot of people don’t realize is that older folks tend to suffer less from some of life’s more annoying illnesses. For instance, because an older person’s immune system has had to fend off so many germs over the years, it tends to provide better protection against the common cold. Allergies are less of an issue for the older set because the body produces less of the antibodies that cause them. And—believe it or not—seniors tend to suffer from fewer migraines.
2. Greater Emotional Control
Oh, those young folk are so excitable! Studies have shown that older folks tend to have better social skills, a higher tolerance level, and more empathy than their younger counterparts.
A research study done at the University of Michigan found that people in their 60s provided more empathetic and effective responses to “Dear Abby” letters. This greater aptitude in the emotional sphere helps reduce stress in the individual while simultaneously making life better for the people around that individual.
3. Clearer Priorities
The more you experience in life, the more you know what you like and what you don’t like, what you need and what you don’t need. And, as you get older, you realize that life really is short, so you’re less likely to waste your time with people, activities, or pursuits that aren’t worthwhile.
4. Less Worrying About Other People’s Opinions
We spend way too much of our lives worrying about what other people think. When we are young (and even when we are not so young) there’s peer pressure. As we go out into the big, wide world, we want to impress bosses, clients, potential romantic partners (and their families), neighbors, and so on.
But at a certain point, we start to be less concerned about what other people think. We’ve survived a lot of judgment—from others and from ourselves—and we have hopefully realized that most of it isn’t worth a hill of beans. We stop worrying about keeping up with the Joneses, and just focus on doing what makes us happy. Brilliant!
While not everyone has grandchildren, those that do put them high on the list of things that make getting older enjoyable. The grandparent/grandchild relationship can be a really special one that benefits everyone involved (including the grandchild’s parents). There’s something undeniably delicious about being able to indulge in all the delights of spending time with a grandchild without having to take on any of the day-to-day responsibilities.
6. Fewer Inescapable Obligations
Speaking of responsibilities, when you are older, it’s much easier to get out of doing things you don’t want to do. There’s not as much peer pressure to come to the party, host the get together, or attend the event. People don’t expect you to be a party animal, so you can pick and choose how you spend your time.
7. More Time for Dreams and Hobbies
Throughout our adult lives, we juggle an often overwhelming number of responsibilities. We have social lives, romantic lives, and professional lives, and each of these spheres comes with a long to-do list.
We may be parents, we may be caretakers of parents, we may have a role to play in the community. And then there are all the self-care things we want to (or think we should) do, like cooking healthy meals, working out, reading, and so on.
It’s a lot.
As we get older, however, the long list of things we must or should do starts getting shorter. We have more time to spend on previously neglected interests and pursuits. Like the quote often attributed to English novelist George Eliot reminds us, “It’s never too late to become what you might have been.”
8. Senior Discounts
Though they may seem trivial, senior discounts and other benefits (like early admittance and other types of preferential treatment) can actually be pretty valuable. Don’t hesitate to pull the senior discount card when you can. After all, you’ve earned it—you may as well take advantage!
9. Permission to Say Almost Anything
“Freedom of speech” takes on a whole new meaning with the senior set. We can get away with a fair amount when it comes to voicing our opinions.
Having the courage (and sometimes the cheek) to speak our minds comes partly from caring less what other people think; partly from confidence that’s been earned over the years; and partly from knowing that life really is short, so it’s a good idea to be direct.
10. Stories to Tell and Wisdom to Bestow
Finally, there’s no doubt that older people are full of stories. From humorous anecdotes to touching tales, we’ve always got a narrative to share. Even better, we’ve told our best stories countless times, we’ve polished our delivery until it is Oscar-worthy. And because we have the perspective that only comes from years of experience, it’s a pretty safe bet that we’ve woven some wisdom into the stories we tell.
There are countless ways that old age brings new joys into our lives. This list covers just a few of our favorites. The trick is to recognize and appreciate the little things that make our days brighter and our hearts happier, and then hold those close. And perhaps most importantly, remember to keep a healthy sense of humor.
As George Bernard Shaw said, “You don’t stop laughing when you grow old; you grow old when you stop laughing.”
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