If you think about it, aging brings up inherent contradictions; we want and don’t want it at the same time. We hope to live a long life, but we don’t necessarily enjoy growing older. We buy anti-aging products and push off long-term care planning, yet focus on finding the secrets to a long and healthy life.
Simply put: we fear aging. And that’s understandable given the grim picture our society often paints of older people — lonely, helpless, often a burden.
But what would happen if we were to change our outlook on aging? This is what sociologist and journalist Anne Karpf asks in her new, short book, How to Age, part of The School of Life series.
By changing our perspective and the language associated with growing older, Karpf says, we can start a revolution that defines aging as a lifelong process that is rich and filled with continuous growth. Instead of dreading aging, we should greet it and proclaim, “I want to grow older.”
(MORE: Why It’s Great to Be Middle-Aged)
Next Avenue pulled eight great quotes from How to Age that show how shifting our mindset can change the experience of aging, provoking us to embrace the opportunity to grow old.
“There’s another approach to aging, but it requires a major gestalt switch: each time we see an older person, we need to imagine them as our future self, and, rather than recoil from their wrinkles or infirmities, applaud their resilience.” “Although it’s easy to find horror stories about old people’s lives and living conditions, for most of us the reality is different. In fact, reams of research show that people become happier as they age, whether through developing new emotional strategies or simply through a change in priorities. But we mispredict that we’ll become less happy as we age.”
“Perhaps the greatest calumny committed against old people — and the one that most frightens the not-yet-olds — is the belief that aging causes us to leech vitality … But physical and mental vitality, though they may be related, especially if you’re fighting pain, are not the same thing. The idea that one’s appetite for life automatically abates with the passing of the years is simply wrong.”
“And if there’s a single preoccupation that drives people from midlife onwards, it’s this search for meaning in their lives … It leads us to question how we’ve lived our lives so far — whether we’ve lived the way we thought we’ve ought, rather than as we truly wished — and sometimes make radical changes. So aging has the potential to become an alchemical process, the agent of change, throughout life.”
“When we talk about life shrinking as we age, what may actually be happening is this sloughing off of inessentials … Middle age and beyond provides an opportunity to look back over our lives and grieve for the good things that never happened and the bad that did — to work through pain, loss and unresolved conflicts and let them go, rather than dragging them around behind us like an increasingly heavy suitcase.”
“Taking back our anxieties about the precariousness and vulnerability that are part of the human condition but which we’ve offloaded onto elderly people, and learning to tolerate dependence rather than locating all our fears about it in older people — what a kind gesture to make to our future aging self! This frees us to reimagine old people and identify them not purely with death and disability but also with long life. It enables us to realize that growth and psychological development aren’t a property of our earliest years but can continue throughout the life cycle.”
“Aging inevitably brings losses and usually some physical deterioration, but those who remain engaged with life manage to maintain a positive ratio of enthusiasm to resignation. The ones who fare best not only care about what they leave behind for the next generation, but are also able to keep learning from people both older and younger than themselves.”
“Above all, we need to remind ourselves that aging is a lifelong process, and not just something that occurs at the end of our lives: the seeds we plant earlier are what we harvest later.”