I was inspired by a comment of Francis Bacon (1561~1626) who wrote, “Old wood best to burn, old wine to drink, old friends to trust, and old authors to read.” Since I am an old author, perhaps I am best to read. Whether I am or not, I’m going to write anyway. And the subject might as well be old age. Not that I feel old, but I am 74. However, the only reason why I’m 74 is because there are 12 months to a year. You see, if there were 15 months to a year, I'd be only 59.
As I already know what it is like to be ‘old’, and many of you do not, I thought I would share some impressions with you. Yes, growing older is inevitable, but growing old is not. After all, age is a state of mind. To prove this, ask yourself this question, “If I woke up tomorrow with amnesia and didn’t know my age, how old would I be?” Wouldn’t you be as old or as young as you feel?
As you can imagine, your emotions have a great deal to do with how young or old you feel, for we don't grow old by living, but by losing interest in living. Those who are filled with enthusiasm, passion, and excitement are filled with life. They are young at heart. So, the message is clear, if you don’t want to get old, get enthusiastic. What do you love doing? Is it dancing, hiking, or painting? Is it listening to, playing, or composing music? Is it sports, going to the theatre, or writing poetry? No matter, whatever it is, be sure to make time for doing what you love. Psychologists have shown that people can be happy if they spend at least 25% of their time doing what they love.
And as you grow older, and wiser, you will realize you can love what you do 100% of the time because love is a choice. That is, we have the capacity to love any job, any circumstance, or anyone. If you love learning, how can you not love any job, circumstance, or person? Don’t they all provide learning opportunities? As long as you remain curious and embrace challenges, life will not disappoint you, for you will receive plenty of problems, I mean, puzzles to unravel and solve each day. Problem solving will keep you busy and make life interesting, helping you to remain young.
I’ve already said that age is a state of mind. By that I mean, our attitude, perspective, or mindset drives how we feel about our age. In other words, we can think and act as a young or old person regardless of our biological age. For example, when Lauren Bacall said, “I am not a has-been. I'm a will-be,” she exhibited the tenacity and vigor of youth, which brought her huge success. Who do you suppose will be more successful, a 70-year-old with the optimism of a 20-year-old or a 20-year-old with the pessimism and cynicism of a 70-year-old? I think you’ll agree that it’s not our biological age, but our mental or attitudinal age that counts. Or, as it was expressed by Marie Dressler (1869~1934), “It is not how old you are, but how you are old.”
How we view old age determines how we feel about it. An 80-year-old, for example, may believe that he or she is not old, but experienced, wise, knowledgeable; not age-ing, but sage-ing. Such thoughts are more than empowering; they actually affect one’s wellbeing on a molecular level. Or, as Deepak Chopra said, “You can free yourself from aging by reinterpreting your body and by grasping the link between belief and biology.” The saying, “You are only as old as you believe you are,” has far more truth in it than the average person realizes because our beliefs actually alter our physiology. Thus, a group of 39-year-olds who believe they are old are indeed old, unless they change their belief.
Lighten any pain, infirmities, and bumps in the road you may encounter with humor. Why not build your own joke book so you always have one or two to share with friends? Here are four quips to get you started:
“Old age is like everything else. To make a success of it, you've got to start young.” (Fred Astaire, 1899~1987)
“Aging seems to be the only available way to live a long life.” (Daniel Francois Esprit Auber, 1782~1871)
“I married an archaeologist because the older I grow, the more he appreciates me.” (Agatha Christie, 1891~1976)
“Old age is when men keep turning off the lights for economical rather than romantic reasons.” (Eli Cass)
French writer Andre Maurois (1885~1967) had a good attitude, “Growing old is no more than a bad habit, which a busy man has no time to form.” Busy people and those planning for tomorrow have no time to grow old. George Burns concurs because he said, “Age to me means nothing. I can't get old; I'm working. I was old when I was twenty-one and out of work. As long as you're working, you stay young. When I'm in front of an audience, all that love and vitality sweeps over me and I forget my age.” George Burns (1896~1996) worked in vaudeville for years, and at age 79 he resurrected his career, working until 100. Work and humor keep him young until the end.
When American humorist Josh Billings (1815~1885) said, “I have never known a person to live to be one hundred and be remarkable for anything else,” he was just joking. But it’s important to point out we can be remarkable at any age. I know of a Japanese man who visits homes for the elderly, comforting and entertaining 80-year-old seniors, but he himself is 100. It is comforting to realize that we can be of value for as long as we live, and contributing to the lives of others definitely keeps one young. Yes, we can matter at any age.
We are influenced by the people we surround ourselves with, so, as much as possible, associate with positive, optimistic people. They will help you to maintain your positive (youthful) attitude, and should you slip, they will help you to raise it back up. Conversely, stay away from those who find new ideas painful. Their beliefs and opinions have ossified and they no longer have any room for growth. They are examples of what it really means to be old. Far better to meet with those who will challenge your thoughts and provide hours of stimulating discussion.
A paradox of aging is that though our physical eyes may deteriorate, our inner vision grows clearer. The older we become, the clearer it is that all the faults we find others guilty of, we ourselves have committed. Thus, we grow more compassionate, understanding that youthful follies and middle-age foibles are just stages in life. As we age, our knowledge, understanding, wisdom, and power accumulate, considerably adding to our pleasure. We also awaken to what really matters, making us more focused. Don’t be misled into believing we are doomed to a life of steady decline, for as George Sand (1804~1876) wrote, “It is quite wrong to think of old age as a downward slope. On the contrary, one climbs higher and higher with the advancing years, and that, too, with surprising strides.” It may seem trite to say, but with the right attitude, we can truly say, “The best is yet to come.”
To conclude, I’ll call on the Roman philosopher Marcus Annaeus Seneca (BC 3~65 AD), “As for old age, embrace and love it. It abounds with pleasure if you know how to use it. The gradually declining years are among the sweetest in a man's life, and I maintain that, even when they have reached the extreme limit, they have their pleasure still.”
For more on old age, see: