As milestones go, I guess this is a big one – turning 60 that is.
As this birthday approaches, I find myself in state of amazement.
How is it possible that I am going to be 60 years old?
Let me clarify up front.
I don’t have a problem with my age. I’ve never been one to lie about it or dread a birthday. “Over the hill” has no meaning for me. I certainly didn’t want a mourning party decorated with black crepe paper when I turned 50. And I don’t want one now.
In truth I don’t really think too much about my age. Some days I even have trouble remembering exactly how old I am, and I need to stop and do the math to figure it out.
The amazement comes from a disconnection between how old I am and how old I feel on any given day. There’s probably a part of my brain that still thinks I’m in my 30’s even if parts of my body keep reminding me that’s not true.
Every day my body lets me know that I am not as young as I once was. There definitely are some signs: a few wrinkles on my face – okay a bunch of wrinkles, some grey hairs that show up when it’s time to visit my stylist, a little stiffness in my muscles in the morning. I can’t do some things at the same speed and agility that I could when I was 26.
I’m not the only one who experiences this contradiction between chronological age and what researchers call subjective age. If you were to ask people how old they think they would be if they didn’t know their true age, apparently most of us feel like we are at least 20 years younger than we really are.
So…what’s up with our relationship with our age?
There was a time when most of us were trying to pass ourselves off as older than we were. Then somewhere along the line we became less comfortable about declaring our age and we started subtracting years or at least being somewhat vague about it.
Instead of just celebrating birthdays, my sister started marking anniversaries of her 30th birthday – until that is, she reached the 30th anniversary of her 30th birthday and decided that the math was all the same anyway.
When we were kids 60 seemed like it was very old and 70 was downright ancient. The reverse happens as we get older – people the same vintage as we are don’t look so old in our eyes. Apparently for most of us “old” is at least 15 years older than you are at any given time. I’ve started thinking that whatever old age is, it doesn’t begin until you hit triple digits. That gives me a lot of wiggle room.
Perhaps the discomfort with our age has something to do with our perspective on aging.
I’m always amused when someone says, “I didn’t think you were that old.”
I realize it’s likely intended as a compliment, but it illustrates my point. In our mind’s eye, we all have a picture of what someone a certain age should look like or be doing with their time. When we look younger than our chronological age, that’s somehow a good thing, but god forbid the opposite is true – that we look older than what someone imagines that age should look like. You know…sixty is okay but it’s not as youthful looking as fifty.
Perhaps you hold a subtle perspective about aging that you never thought about before.
- Do you have a picture in your mind of what _____ age looks like?
- What does it mean to you to get older?
- Do you think about aging as a natural process during which you gain wisdom and experience?
- POr do you think about aging as the onset of all the things you can no longer do?
Like everything else in life our beliefs create our experiences and expectations.
For some people aging is the slipping away of youth. There is a grasping on to younger years, perhaps because it seems like those were the glory days. We look backward through somewhat rose coloured glasses making everything seem perhaps a little better than it was.
Sometimes this grasping is because aging seems like a fearful process. We focus on all the negative things we imagine aging means – declining health, loss of independence, social isolation.
For me, it’s not either of those. I don’t have a desire to be my younger self. I’m certainly a whole lot wiser than I was years ago even though I was certain I had life all figured out in my 20’s.
I’m not afraid of getting older either. Quite frankly I welcome every birthday. Aging is not the worst thing that can happen. In fact, not having your next birthday is a far less desirable outcome.
Besides it’s completely out of my control so I try not to obsess about it. What I’ve noticed is that my body just seems to age at a different pace than my head.
I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. Thinking I’m younger than I am encourages me to do things I might not do if I thought of myself as “old”. Acting my age takes on a whole new meaning and creates a lot of new opportunities.
How you think about aging really does matter.
There was a study by Yale University that found people who had positive self-perceptions of aging lived 7.5 years longer than people who were less positive. Even after they accounted for other factors such as overall health, age, gender and standard of living, the increase in longevity remained.
Holding positive thoughts about aging actually buys you more years – which you can then subtract from your age if you really want to.
They say 60 is the new 50 and 50 is the new 40 and 40 is the new 30. There is a man in the Netherlands who is petitioning the court to have his birth date changed because he no longer identifies with being 69. He thinks 49 is a better age.
Seems to me your age is your age. It’s such a small part of how you can define yourself. Your age does not dictate who you are or how you show up in the world. Click To Tweet
You know mindfulness encourages us to be with what is – to not pretend that something is different than it is.
Here’s what is:
My mind is still trying to figure how old I am.
Every additional year is a good thing.
Robert Browning had it right:
“Grow old along with me – the best is yet to be.”