Candice Bergen Is Right, Life Gets Better with Age
By Dr. Michael Brickey, Ask Dr. Ageless
"Except for the dying part, getting older is so fabulous, I love it….everybody I know is better older. They are more relaxed, they’re more mellow, they’re more alert as a friends, they have a confidence ... You really do acquire a kind of ‘I don’t give a damn’ about what people think, which is so liberating. I love this age now.
Research finds that Ms Bergen is right.
Let’s take a look at each of her impressions. Older Americans report being happier than younger Americans. In their twenties, 28% of Americans report being very happy. That number keeps going up with age until it peaks with 38% of Americans in their seventies reporting being very happy. Why? For most people, the teens and twenties are a time of great angst, uncertainty, and insecurity. As we grow older, we develop a clearer sense of who we are, what we want, and how to try to achieve it. We also have more control over our lives, shedding parental control and eventually shedding workplace demands when we no longer have to work for the money (but may choose to work or volunteer).
Age also offers perspective, which allows us to better sort out what is vital and what is just desirable. Experience at doing a lot of things from buying a car or house, dealing with career ups and downs, investing money, etc., gives us more knowledge and confidence, as does experience with a lot of interpersonal relationships. Meanwhile, changes deep in the amygdala in our brains make us less likely to overreact to stress and more likely to attend to the positive aspects of events, experiences, and relationships.
Teenagers think they are the most independent, rebellious people in the world. In reality, it usually is the most conformist time of our lives. Teens are often preoccupied with the right clothes, the right music, the right crowd, etc. As we enter the workforce, we don’t have to satisfy parents and teachers, but we do have to satisfy bosses, customers, and coworkers. By the time we don’t have to work for the money, peer pressure becomes even less important. Meanwhile, a sense of limited time left in life often brings a feeling of “I don’t have time for that nonsense.” While our earlier years were a time for novelty, exploration, and achievement, research finds that aging brings a shift to more emphasis on relationships and experiences. Hence, there is more attention and value placed on close friendships (which often includes family).
Despite the obesity epidemic, disability rates (the inability to perform daily living functions) are declining for people in their 60s, 70s, and 80s. This “compressed morbidity” has been increasing since the government started tracking it in 1982. Why? Reasons include a more affluent, better educated population that is more likely to access medical care when needed. Workers are less likely to work long hours at “backbreaking jobs” that wear out their bodies. Also, our environment is easier to manage, e.g., appliances, air conditioning, cars with automatic transmissions and power steering. Twenty years ago people who used a walker or wheelchair would have great difficulty accessing public services, shopping, and entertainment. Today, most public accommodations have curb cuts, handicapped parking spaces, elevators, and wide restroom stalls. Further, a lot of shopping, business, and government services can be conducted at home on the Internet. Now if they would just get more comfortable, healthy shoes on the market that are reasonably priced and don’t look orthopedic....
In sum, of course, there is some physical and mental decline with aging. Most of the downhill part, however, is, as Ms Bergen says, about life becoming more relaxed and enjoyable.
Please see our “Icons of Positive Aging,” which features Ms. Bergen, elsewhere in this issue.
Anti-Aging Psychologist Dr. Michael Brickey can be found on www.DrBrickey.com. His free podcasts of interviews with anti-aging experts are at www.AgelessLifestyles.com and on www.webtalkradio.net. He is the Oprah-featured author of Defy Aging and author to 52 baby steps to Grow Young and anti-aging hypnosis CDs.