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  • Writer's pictureBill Stauffer

Gratitude Friday 8/6/21 – In Praise of Aging

Okay, so I do miss youth on some days. Yet, increasingly old age, whenever that begins, (which I suspect is an ever-sliding scale) is on my mind. Full disclosure, I don’t think I am there, yet but it is close enough now to feel. Some days, it seems like just a short time ago I was 18 and filled with piss and vinegar and my grandfather would say. Other days, it seems like a lifetime ago. Time marches on, and it really does move more quickly as one ages. Time is indeed relative.

There are some real benefits of the life experience that comes through and beyond the middle years. Time moderates expectations and provides additional context one lacks in those early years. No event ever unfolds quite as bad as one imagined it would end up. All “negative” experiences led to insights and opportunities for growth. Opportunities invisible until you hit the barriers. In reflection, there may be no worse curse than an unchallenged life. If everything goes your way and you never have to do anything but coast, you never have to shift into the drive gear and find out what you have under the hood. You never learn what your own capacity is when you are simply coast through life. With time, also comes humility as one learns how much of how the chips fall is not in our control. The hubris of youth fades with adversity and life experience.

I have said with more than a trace of humor that if I knew then what I know now, I would be dead or in jail. In my youth, I (and everyone else) was operating without the benefit of a mature brain. I got into enough trouble as it was, had I known more, I would not have applied it in the same way as I would now. The ability to weigh consequences is the part of the brain not yet fully online at age 18, our executive function. Inevitably it would have ended badly.

I read this Psychology Today article last year that in which a study analyzed data from more than 14 million participants from over 40 different countries to determine happiness by age. They suggested that if you live in Europe or North America age 49 is likely to be the least happy year of your life. If you read the article, there are some interesting theories on the result, but I digress. If I am consistent with the sample, that rough year is in the rearview mirror. Statistically, happy days are ahead of me.

Maybe we make getting older unnecessarily difficult by what we emphasis as a society. We value youth and vitality and devalue age and wisdom. What does that say about us? It was not all that long ago in history when there was no teenage stage. There was childhood and adulthood. We added in the teenage years in recent history. I guess we needed to stretch out the awkward years.

It was not that long ago that age was valued as older people had life experience and that periodically, they had information from an earlier time in life we needed to get through a situation. I don’t think that this dynamic has changed, we just have this illusion that all of the information is available at our fingertips. Somehow, we forget that what we need is the wisdom of experience, not data. It seems to me like we may be confusing data with experience. Data without context just does not have the same value. Time and experience provide such context. My sense is we would be well served to spend more time listening to such lived experience of the older members of our community. We ignore our own history at great peril. I would even go as far as to say that perhaps the focus on youth and vitality over experience and wisdom is at the heart of a lot of what troubles us as a people.

Each life stage has its own challenges and opportunities. For everyone reading this – there are physical challenges ahead it is a reality for each of us. We are all mortal, and our physical health breaks down over time. Reflecting back two paragraphs, despite the reality of getting closer to the end of life, why do so many report that they are happier beyond middle age? Perhaps this is one of the stages in life were people feel like they can make more choices and those choices are more fully informed by their accumulated life experience. Time informed by experience to use more fully. For many, there is time to explore new directions and opportunities. This latter point probably comes from so many conversations I am having with people just a few years older than me who are at that juncture and considering the possibilities of what is next, with a greater appreciation for the finite nature of time than at age twenty.

So this gratitude Friday, I am embracing life in the later midlife years. Getting old is not so bad as they say, consider the alternative. It could have been a whole lot worse for me. This from a guy who should have died at birth from condition rarely survived in the mid-60s. Later on, due to addiction, I had no life plan that considered being a alive after age 30. To this guy, these are all bonus years that I am the lucky lottery winner of. Today is an extra day. Lots to be grateful for despite the additional aches and pains of age.

What are you grateful for today?

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