Janet Sheridan: The upside of aging
September 18, 2014
At my age, if I said I'm surprised by my gravity-altered body, I'd sound no brighter than a collie being amazed by ticks after a romp in the woods. Some things in life are as certain as a stalemate in Congress.
But I am surprised by the growing sense of well-being and contentment I've experienced since I retired, and I'm not alone, according to a Consumer Reports article of May 2013: "5 Good Things that Happen as We Age." The article included the researched findings; the comments are mine.
- Anger, stress, and worry subside. Researchers found that people in their 70s and 80s experienced fewer negative emotions than those in any other age group. No surprise there — old people have fewer worries. My entire life, I fretted: Will anyone dance with me? What if, after four years of college, I hate teaching? Could my swollen toe be cancer? Can we afford to buy a house? Will I survive this divorce? Have we saved enough for retirement? On and on and on.
Now, my life-altering decisions are few; my future is no longer limitless; and I refuse to waste time stressing about dead spots in the lawn, fuming when delayed by highway construction or worrying that my grandchildren aren't perfect because they don't write thank-you notes.
- Wisdom grows. Researchers asked subjects, whose ages ranged from 23 to 93, to analyze fictional disputes. Their responses were then evaluated for components of wisdom — seeing all points of view, predicting the many ways a conflict could play out, acknowledging the limits of available information and foreseeing the chances of compromise. People with an average age of 65 outperformed younger participants by a large margin.
I remember a discussion with my freshman students about a respected and popular teacher who had announced his retirement. "Tell you what," said Kirk, usually the strong silent type, "I think old people are better teachers. They've seen all our tricks, heard all our questions, know where we'll get confused and experienced a lot of stuff they can use as examples." I tried to get Kirk to talk more in class after he showed such insight.
- Marriages get healthier. Even when they quarreled, married seniors reported greater satisfaction and more positive experiences with their mates than younger couples. The researchers speculated that we appreciate our spouses more as we age because we're aware of our own mortality.
I've noticed that I no longer expend energy trying to convince Joel that my way of doing something is superior to his. If he skims instead of reading, prefers poultry cooked until dry and fails to understand the advantages of keeping a running grocery list, why should I care? (Well, I do resent his poor attitude toward my ongoing shopping list, but I try to limit my snide remarks.)
Satisfaction with social relationships improves. Seniors typically have a smaller, but closer, circle of friends than younger adults. As a child, limited by proximity, l had a small number of good friends. From junior high school through retirement, my social circle ballooned like a pumpkin in September, but most of the relationships lacked depth. Now, once again, I have fewer friends, but they are keepers.
Happiness increases. Researchers defined happiness as greater contentment in daily life rather than occasional peaks of joy. So we're talking about the pleasure of strolling in the park here, not the thrill of climbing a 14er.
Yesterday, I took the newspaper and my breakfast outside to the patio. The sun warm on my face, I looked up now and then to enjoy the beauty of my yard, particularly a small patch of roses.
As the sun climbed higher and the air warmed, I caught a familiar fragrance, a smell I've loved since my childhood. I closed my eyes, breathed deeply, focused on the aroma, then smiled when I thought, "I now have time to smell the roses."
Sheridan's book, "A Seasoned Life Lived in Small Towns," is available in Craig at Downtown Books and Steamboat Springs at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore. She also blogs at http://www.auntbeulah.com on Tuesdays.