THE GURU NEXT DOOR
This past September I joined the estimated 1.6 million New Jerseyeans who are 60-years old and over. We are a minority to be sure, with the median age in New Jersey on the young side – close to 39-years old.
But have you heard? Sixty is the new thirty-nine!
I'm joking, but I'm sure you're heard the expression: Sixty is the new 50. Fifty is the new 40. Forty is the new 12. What this new math is saying is that middle age may not be what we thought. We can look younger, feel younger, and have fun longer.Who knows what 60-plus will bring. Will seventy be the new 60? Eighty, the new 70? Everything old is young again. Of course, it's wonderful that we can live longer and healthier than ever before. But in doing so, are we running away from our own aging? Or are we greeting each birthday with the same enthusiasm we had when we were young?
I don't want my 60 to have to be the new 39. I want my sixties to be my sixties. Not the sixties that other people think I should have. Or that other people would never want for themselves. I want my sixties and my seventies and my eighties (if I am lucky enough to have them) - to be something to celebrate.
Have you noticed that getting older past a certain age is not always something we universally celebrate? I mean, really celebrate, not just acknowledge. You can really see it in the progression of the sentiments in age-specific birthday cards. Up until around age 40, it's about fun and celebration; after that it's often laced with quips about deterioration and resignation, with a smattering of entitlement. Yippee!
Happily, the ongoing clout of the baby boomer generation (born 1946-1964) has made itself felt in improving the image of middle age and beyond. As more and more people hit the demographic rafters, we got to see what life after numerical youth could look like. Maybe not so bad after all ... at least up to 63-years old (the oldest baby boomer).
But our culture is still predominantly youth oriented, and as more and more baby boomers move out of the high earning years, we may lose our status as a marketing target. Then whom will we have to tell us what we want to hear?
And what is that? What do we want to hear? What do the Viagra commercials with those aging lovers tell us? What do those Dove commercials with those stunning older women tell us? They tell us that we matter, that we still have what it takes, that we can love and be loved, that we're not on the way out.
And what is that all good for? We want to know that we can be happy. As happy as we thought we could be when we were in our twenties, thirties and forties.
As happy as we were when we were our happiest.
And why not? We may feel the effects of aging on our bodies. We may look in the mirror and wonder who that old guy or gal is. We may have even dodged a few mortality bullets already. But that doesn't change the only truth about happiness and age.
Our ability to be happy is ageless. It never grows old. Now, that's something to celebrate!
Ditching the myths of aging
A long time ago, marketers discovered that many of myths of aging were not true. For example, people over 50 are not necessarily set in their ways and will change brands, much more so than younger age groups. That changed the marketers' behavior. Instead of ignoring the 50-plus crowd, they courted them, and it paid off. That crowd has disposable income in the trillions.
On a personal level, the myths (or beliefs) we have about aging, determine our feelings and behavior. And there's a lot more at stake than buying power. Our very happiness is tied to our beliefs. If we believe there are things we have to be unhappy about connected to aging, we will be unhappy – even just anticipating getting older. The unhappiness is likely to increase the closer we get to whatever age, condition, or event we believe we'd have to feel bad about.
Just like the marketers who counted out the 50-plus generation, by believing certain things about ourselves, we count ourselves out of happiness. We don't have to do that. We may not have control over the ageism in the world that counts us out, but we certainly have control over our own ageist ways of thinking.
For example, here are five common myths of aging that affect our happiness, with alternative ways of thinking:
Myth: There are more reasons to be happy when we are younger.
How about – there are always reasons to be happy, but we don't need a reason.
We all have our own very personal reasons to be happy or not. And while there are certain things that happen at certain stages of our lives, whether we are happy about them or not has nothing to do with the events. It has everything to do with whether we believe the event is good, bad or neutral for our happiness. Just because we enjoy certain things or are happy when they happen, doesn't mean we need those things to be happy.
Conversely, just because we don't enjoy certain things or are unhappy when they happen, doesn't mean we need to avoid those things to avoid unhappiness.
Our happiness and unhappiness is not connected to events, but to beliefs about events. The kind of events we experience may change over the course of our lives, but our ability to own our response never ever changes.
Myth: Time is running out.
How about – time is expandable and the present is eternal.
The day I turned 60, I looked back at my fifties and saw that they went by in a minute. In fact, I may have skipped right from 50 to 60 in a heartbeat. Perhaps the universe thought I was so mature, I didn't need to do that decade. Time is a tricky thing. It collapses into itself when you look back on it. When you look ahead, it evaporates into the mist. But when you are in it, there is no time. There is just you in the moment. Eternal. Happy. Have you checked the moment lately?
Myth: The future belongs to the young.
How about – my future belongs to me.
When you come right down to it, there is no future except our own future. And we decide how we want to view it. Do the young have more of a future than the old? In terms of actual years, that may or may not be true. But in terms of what the future is really good for, we are all equal. What is the future good for? It's good for thinking about. It truly does not exist. Whatever our age, we only have the future we can imagine right now. And what matters most to all of us is the same thing. Are we going to be happy there? What future are you imagining?
Myth: Romantic love is for the young.
How about – love is a natural expression of happiness, regardless of age.
Of course, there are all kinds of love, but romantic love seems to be the one that we believe has an expiration date. I'm sure Viagra commercials have done a lot to explode this myth, but I often wonder about the reaction of young people when they see it: "Ewww, gross!"
They'll find out.
Of course, how we love changes as we grow older. We're different people; our life circumstances are different. We want different things. But if you have counted yourself out because of your age, do you really want to do that? Are you saying love is foolish at your age, or no one would find you attractive, or you can't imagine how you will ever fit someone into your life? Find out what you really think. Is it really what you believe or what you think you should believe? Trust your inclination and be open to the possibilities.
Myth: I'm too old to change.
How about – I can and will change when I want to.
There are some things we can't change, but we can always change ourselves, if we have a reason. Saying we're too old to change is really another way of saying, we don't want to. If you don't want to change, find out if you truly like the way you are, or if you believe there are obstacles to change. Perhaps you would like to change, but are not sure how to do it. Whatever the change is, you can only start by embracing the desire to change. It's impossible to see possibilities when your eyes are shut. Loving your desire to change opens your eyes.