New Perspectives on Aging

Boomers were born into a culture with the assumption that Elders were sources of wisdom. Elders had earned respect and deference. In their own young adulthood, they became “skeptical” of that, though.

Remember, “Don’t trust anyone over 30?” By the end of the 20th century the pendulum swung even further, as the meme of Elders as Wise Ones was displaced by reverence for health and speed and the quest for eternal youth.

But now that Boomers are becoming Elders, we are taking another look.

A feature story “The Wisdom of the Aged” from the New York Times highlights a yearlong engagement between six New York City residents and journalist John Leland and photographer Nicole Bengiveno. They asked, “What is reasonable to ask of old age? Beyond the assaults of poverty or illness, to what extent can people shape the quality of life in their late years?” In the responses from these individuals who have been granted the boon of continued independent living, Leland found resilience and clear mindedness. They face struggle and challenge holding grace and gratefulness in the palm of their hands.

“A paradox of old age,” Leland writes, “is that older people have a greater sense of well-being than younger ones – not because they’re unreservedly blissful, but because they accept a mixture of happiness and sadness in their lives, and leverage this mixture when events come their way. They waste less time on anger, stress, and worry.” Engaged in the present, these individuals appreciate, love (even straining the reins of family to enjoy new love,) set goals, and remain optimistic.

Leland cites research by University of Florida sociology professor Monika Ardelt that sought to learn whether older really means wiser.  Ardelt, according to Leland, answered with “a qualified yes: that even as the brain slows down or memory deteriorates, older people are often better decision makers, recognizing patterns or being more attuned to the effects of their decisions.”

Yes! And from what Leland shares, it appears the individuals have come to appreciate where they are and assess their situations with compassion and acceptance. Again and again, these elders recognize their strengths and frailties, accepting where their choices have landed them and skillfully maintaining their health and relationships.

These Elders are looking at what’s still in the glass and finding it half full.

Source: Anna Sontag, LinkedIn Pulse, February 15, 2016

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