The Art of Aging Exuberantly
By Jude LaClaire, Ph.D.
A funny thing happened on the way to this article. As usual, I am thinking, reading, observing, and searching for a timely topic. This for me, and perhaps, many of you, has been a year of loss and change. Our family prematurely lost our fifty-year-old nephew, son, dad, and husband. One of my clients whom I had been working with off and on since age thirty-five, died of an accidental drowning at fifty. Five of my Buddhist colleagues, some I had known for forty years, went to their next life. Three of my convent class (1958) left us. I, myself, am feeling the vagaries of aging. I was thinking of grief and loss as a topic.
On a spontaneous trip to Rainy Day Books, a book title caught my attention, The Swedish Art of Aging Exuberantly by the author of The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, Margareta Magnusson. I thought, let’s look more humorously and, maybe even exuberantly, at the changes life throws at us. When I mentioned this book, a friend suggested another book, Growing Bolder: Defy the Cult of Youth, Live with Passion and Purpose by Marc Middleton, a man in his fifties who left a career in broadcasting to look at society’s view of aging. It is getting curiouser and curiouser. Then the Winter, 2023 Saint Luke’s Cardiovascular Consultants newsletter arrived in the mail with the article, Is Retirement Stressful for Your Heart? The edition had all articles on living and aging healthily. So here we are.
I know you may look at your life as filled with challenges, whatever age you may be. Let’s think about how we can do this in a bolder and more exuberant way, with some humor thrown in for good measure.
Marc Middleton, author of Growing Bolder, is helping us rethink our cultural and personal attitudes toward aging. One of his main themes is that we live in a culture that is ageist, in society, media, and private and governmental forces. He says it, “wants us to feel worn, weak and worthless…giving disinformation and despair…cultural brainwashing.”
He reminds us that retirement is an outmoded concept that originated in the U.S. in about 1935 with the establishment of Social Security benefits. At that time the life expectancy of the white male was sixty-five and most were working manual labor jobs. Now the life expectancy is in the mid to late 80s for men and women in the U.S. For the over 300,000 years of human life on earth, the average life expectancy was nineteen. In 1900 it was forty-nine and only 122,000 people were eighty-five or older. By 2050 it is projected that there will be twenty million people eighty-five or older. One study says ½ of today’s five-year-olds will live to be one hundred.
Many studies have shown that retirement can be bad for your physical and mental health. People of all ages need purposeful activity, social connection, and some economic security to be healthy. How are we to do this? Margaret Magnusson gives us some wonderful tips.
Have a gin and tonic with a friend. Connect, keep in touch, socialization is important. Find old friends, and make new ones.
The world is always ending! She suggests that extreme horrors and the simple joys of life can exist together. Live for now, and prepare for the future.
As we face death or loss in our lives, know this is a normal part of life and we can go through this together, learning as we go.
Keep engaged physically, mentally, and emotionally. Work, hobbies, friends, fun!
Take care of your hair…if you have any! Everyone’s body is changing constantly as we are all aging. Make laugh wrinkles, not worry ones!
Spend time with younger people…different ages, and different interests.
Don’t fall over! Practice balance in all spheres of your life. Ask for help. Take it in. Be grateful.
Take care of one thing each day. Maybe a person, maybe a plant, maybe a pet!
Wear stripes. Do things that bring you joy!
Since birth is the cause of death, we all can benefit from re-thinking our approach to aging.
We can do this by growing bolder, and taking risks at any age: be exuberant, use humor and create what’s next in your life.
Jude LaClaire, Ph. D., LCPC is a counselor and educator at the Heartland Holistic Health Center. She is the author of the “Life Weaving Education Curriculum” that teaches creative, effective, holistic problem solving. For counseling appointments, seminars, in-service training or speaker’s bureau, call 816-509-9277 or email@example.com; www.heartlandholistic.com