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Why Your Decades After 60 May Be Your Best

Retired people past that age are the most joyful. Here's why.

By Shayla Thiel Stern

When my daughter was in kindergarten, her teacher asked her class to create self-portraits imagining what they would be like as grandparents in the future and to fill in the blank, "When I am a grandparent, I will...".

My daughter used white cotton balls to create a head of fluffy white hair and filled in a blank beneath the picture with  “SWIM LAPS,” written in her sweet, unsteady penmanship. She was perhaps inspired by her own grandmothers' and great-grandmothers' fondness for pool exercise.

I was reminded of this when reading a story from The Guardian’s recent series on retirement, “Could your 60s and 70s be the best decades of life?” The article led with a video about a 66-year-old recent retiree who goes for a daily swim in the frigid ocean at Cornwall with other older adults — never missing a day because of the sense of joy it brings not only to swim, but to swim with like-minded friends. It was something she could not have done while still raising her children and working full-time, she notes.

Life Experience Makes Us Courageous

Using interviews with men and women across Britain, Guardian reporter Amelia Hill discovered a common theme for the article: Even if you don’t make a specific plan for what you will do in retirement, you are likely to be happy in whatever you choose. She notes the choice is personal and the source of joy is far-reaching, from volunteering to playing with grandchildren to swimming daily in the ocean.

Research about happiness and aging shows that older adults generally are happier than their younger counterparts, and retirement is likely to improve your happiness and health. Moreover, that effect is immediate and long-lasting.

The Guardian interviewed Caroline Lodge, co-author of the book The New Age of Ageing: How Society Needs to Change, which followed more than 50 people age 50 to 90.

“Most of our interviewees are amazed by the fact that they are enjoying life and that they feel young and normal, sometimes into their 90s,” Lodge told The Guardian.

Much of this joie de vivre seems to come from something that many of us have enjoyed as we’ve grown older: A sense of self-confidence based on our years of experience.

“It’s the loss of angst about what people think of you: the size of your bum or whether others are judging you correctly. It’s not an arrogance, but you know who you are when you’re older and all those roles you played to fit in when you were younger are irrelevant,” said 69-year-old Monica Hartwell in The Guardian. “That makes one more courageous.”


Who Cares What Other People Think?

And it isn’t just self-confidence that engenders years of experience. It’s that you no longer need to care what other people think. Another interviewee (who chose to remain anonymous in The Guardian) put it beautifully: “Last week, I swept across a crowded pub to pick up a raffle prize ... with my dress tucked into my knickers! A few years ago I would have been mortified. Not any more. Told ‘em they were lucky it was cold and I had knickers on!”

As we’ve noted previously on Next Avenue, lifelong learning and the willingness to continue to learn is good for the body, mind and soul. In fact, people who perceive themselves as lifelong learners often are “superagers,” or people who remain vital and cognitively resilient through very old age.

“I do things now that I wouldn’t have dared to do when younger, for fear of being crap at them," added Hartwell in The Guardian. "Now I try my hand at whatever I fancy and if I’m not as good as others, I don’t care, I’m still learning.”

(And U.S. readers, take heart, you don’t have to be living in the U.K. to find true happiness in retirement.)

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Shayla Thiel Sternis the former Director of Editorial and Content for Next Avenue at Twin Cities PBS. Read More
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