It’s time to get bolder about getting older

It was realising he was the oldest player at a hockey tournament that shook Carl Honoré to the core. And it caused a stream of questions.

Though playing well, Carl wondered –

‘Do I look out of place?

‘Are people laughing at me?’

‘Should I take up a more gentle pastime?

Above all, Carl recalls, ‘It got me thinking about how we often feel ashamed and afraid of growing older. And how we imagine it’s all about loss, decline, decrepitude and sadness.’

That was underlined when Carl discovered ‘age’ is the number one answer on a Google Search when you type in ‘I lie about my…’

The shock at that hockey tournament spurred Carl, an author of several best-selling books, to research and write. His motivation – to see if there was another, happier, story to tell about ageing.

The result was his book ‘Bolder – making the most of our longer lives’. Which, he confesses, ‘was really about helping me feel better about my own advancing years.’

What did Carl discover? That, ‘So many of my own downbeat assumptions about ageing turned out to be wrong. And because – and this is the really exciting bit – so many things can get better as we grow older.

What are some of the positives about aging that Carl identified? He would tell you –

People are generally more contented in later life.

Across the world happiness seems to follow a U-shaped curve, bottoming out in middle age and then rising again thereafter.

Carl points out even Pete Townshend confessed to feeling more cheerful in his 60s than he was when he wrote one of the most ageist lines in the pop music canon: ‘Hope I die before I get old.’

We becomes more comfortable in our own skin and less worried about what others think of us. We tend to form stronger, more fulfilling relationships as we age. Ageing also makes many of us more altruistic and eager to serve the common good.

The things that happen to our bodies and brains are not as bad as we may fear.

That’s because, these days, we have more and more levers to pull – nutrition, technology, medicine, exercise – to slow the physical decline. All of which opens the potential to go on doing amazing things with our bodies deep into later life.

The evidence that this is true seems to be in the media almost every day, with stories of those considered ‘well beyond it’ kitesurfing, climbing mountains, running marathons, cycling long distance, and swimming competitively.

Today, the average over-65-year-old is in better shape than ever before. And, as Carl notes in his book, Japan is even toying with moving the age when someone is deemed rojin, or old, from 65 to 75.

Our brains do a great job compensating when we lose some cognitive zip.

That’s why creativity can carry on right up to the end of our lives. Carl notes some experts think ageing alters the brain structure in ways that make us even more creative.

Older adults also tend to be better at seeing the big picture, embracing compromise, weighing multiple points of view and accepting that knowledge can only take you so far.

Carl enthuses, ‘When tackling problems in a familiar field, older brains are quicker to spot the patterns and details that open the door to finding a solution.

He also cites researchers at Harvard University who concluded that four key skills do not ripen fully until around the age of 50: arithmetic, vocabulary, general knowledge and a grasp of how the world works.

Social and emotional smarts often improve with age.

We get better at reading people. Our richer vocabulary helps us speak, write and communicate better and our capacity to co-operate and negotiate improves.

We also get better at putting ourselves in other people’s shoes, finding compromises and resolving conflicts. As we age, we become less prone to wild swings of emotion and better able to cope with negative feelings such as anger, fear and envy. In other words, as Carl puts it, ‘We find it easier to keep our heads while all about us are losing theirs.’

With Carl having said he wrote the book to meet his own needs, you may wonder if it has worked. Has it changed him? Carl’s answer is, ‘Yes, profoundly. It has made me feel so much more at ease with the idea of growing older.’

And what does he hope ‘Bolder’ will do for those who read it? Carl’s answer is, ‘To see ageing in a completely new light. To move from fear and dread to the kind of understanding and optimism that will help them make the most of their lives – at every age.’

To get the big picture read Carl Honoré’s book Bolder: Making The Most Of Our Longer Lives published by Simon & Schuster.

What makes you feel good about your advancing years? Please tell us here or share with the AfterWorkNet Facebook Group.

Peter Meadows

Peter is AfterWorkNet’s Programme Director. He uses his retirement to help churches, resource inter-church initiatives, enjoy his eight grandchildren, escape to Spain and to spend his kids’ inheritance.

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The word retirement is not even in the Bible. What is taught in scripture is transition. There is nothing that says you work most of your life and then get to be selfish for the next 20 years

Rick Warren, PurposeDrivenLife