I suspect few of us like to acknowledge that we are getting older. Most mornings I look in the mirror and just ask, "Who the hell is that old guy?" And winter seems to exacerbate the little aches of aging joints and muscles.
But I have lately been wondering why it seems that the older I've gotten, the happier I've become. I just assumed one was supposed to get grumpier and grumpier until you were parked in a nursing home with a drool bucket tied around your neck with only the paid help still willing to speak to you once or twice a day.
So I found The Geezers' Crusade, (NYT, Feb 1, 2010) by conservative columnist David Brooks about chronologically-gifted Americans very interesting. A few key points:
People are most unhappy in middle age and report being happier as they get older. This could be because as people age they pay less attention to negative emotional stimuli, according to a study by the psychologists Mara Mather, Turhan Canli and others.
Yes. "Well, shit happens" is probably the most common response I have to problems that I deem trivial. And an increasing number of problems seem very trivial indeed.
The research [on aging] paints a comforting picture. And the nicest part is that virtue is rewarded. One of the keys to healthy aging is what George Vaillant of Harvard calls “generativity” — providing for future generations. Seniors who perform service for the young have more positive lives and better marriages than those who don’t. As Vaillant writes in his book “Aging Well,” “Biology flows downhill.” We are naturally inclined to serve those who come after and thrive when performing that role.
One of my biggest pleasures is playing "mentor" to younger writers, speakers, librarians, techies, etc. In some sense, that is kind of what this blog is about. I'd considered it an extension of being a teacher, but maybe it is just sign of aging?
The odd thing is that when you turn to political life, we are living in an age of reverse-generativity. Far from serving the young, the old are now taking from them. First, they are taking money. According to Julia Isaacs of the Brookings Institution, the federal government now spends $7 on the elderly for each $1 it spends on children.
I do my best to avoid politics in my writing and in my personal life. I find liberals only slightly less awful than conservatives. But I will say that Brooks is right when he suggests:
It now seems clear that the only way the U.S. is going to avoid an economic crisis is if the oldsters take it upon themselves to arise and force change. The young lack the political power. Only the old can lead a generativity revolution — millions of people demanding changes in health care spending and the retirement age to make life better for their grandchildren.
Watch it, politicians. I am voting in the best interest of my grandchildren. We geezers can take care of ourselves, thank you very much.
After all, we know "shit happens."
As I repost this - five years closer to my great reward - the idea of generativity is more important than ever. I've been wondering why issues of equity and cultural proficiency have seemed so important to me lately. I think it is the realization that if I can improve society for all children, I will have significantly improved it for my own grandchildren as well. It's socio-genetics, not altruism, at work. Hmmmmmmm...