How old is “old?” It depends. It’s a controversial topic because people generally tend to use both “old” and “age” in a quantifiable sense. Mortality tables use “age” to define “old.” The fact is, though, that “age” is absolute; it’s quantifiable. If you’re 70-years old, you’re 70-years old. There is nothing relative about it. And, according to the mortality tables, 70-years old is “old.”
However, to me, the use of “old” absent any “age” quantification is purely relative. When I was 15, I thought 30 was not only “old,” but ALMOST dead! But, as I approached the inevitable decrepitude of 30, I sensed a need to change my thinking about “old.” However, by the age of 30, a modicum of personal common sense had also emerged. I finally realized that it’s best to keep my stupid mouth shut about certain things.
But, as much as I deemed 30 as being ancient at the age of 15, somehow I didn’t feel “old” when I turned 30. And under NO circumstances would I have willingly gone back to being a 15.
Then, I began the lunge toward 40, at which point I abruptly discovered the remarkable convenience of selectively redefining certain terms and “old” jumped to the top of my “to-do” list. I derived great comfort in a Satchel Paige quote; “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you was?”
Satchel’s quote expanded my views on “old” more than ever. Even though my belt buckle seemed to have found a neat hiding place beneath my 40ish midriff bulge and I needed to hold a newspaper at arm’s length in order to read the print, I was still not “old.”
And, yes, I did notice a slight hairline recession, but it didn’t bother me. After all, some of my colleagues were experiencing balding crowns and mine was not even thinning. Of course, the primary reason was the fact that I NEVER looked at the crown of my own head. The blissfulness of ignorance!
I was by all contemporary standards a happy dude. Yes, I was “aging,” but, still, I was NOT “old.” I had adopted a relative aging rule: “old” was always going to be 15-years older than I was. And, I was STILL 80% of a decade from being truly “old:” 50!
But, according to very recent research published in Scientific American, all of the happiness of my youthful years (20 to 50) was a big ole crock of hooey. What I actually felt, according to researchers at Stony Brook University, was anxiety and worry. I would not be privy to real happiness until I turned 50.
Gallup had done a random survey of 350,000 Americans across the country and it clearly showed that happiness and enjoyment declined between the ages of 20 and 50 and increased dramatically after 50. The younger groups consistently displayed much higher levels of stress and worry than did the old folks. So, apparently, we old geezers are not getting older, we’re just becoming happier. The researchers are not sure why, though.
I’ve been a professional researcher my entire professional life. As shocking as this may seem, some researchers are full of baloney. They’ve apparently never heard of false pattern recognition. So, here are a few personal insights on the matter along with a brief recap of MY 20s, 30s, and 40s. And, as you’ll realize, I was the essence of “true” blissfulness, and, as always, it was due mostly to ignorance.
When I was twenty seven-years-old, I stood 5 feet 8.5 inches tall and weighed 135 pounds. I could do fifteen one-armed push-ups on each arm, a hundred rapid-fire sit-ups, run a couple of hundred yards without even getting out of breath, and small kids could not only stand on my stomach, they could jump up and down a few times.
I was well educated and I was into the beginning of what was to become a lifelong rewarding professional career. While I was certainly no female heartthrob, I did possess boyish good looks, thick dark wavy hair, a lean body, and an outgoing personality. I definitely did not suffer from a deficit of opposite sex contact.
With the exception of a brief detour through Vietnam, all was well with the world. Life was indeed GOOD! These euphoric feelings stayed with me right through to my mid-forties. Even then, I didn’t suddenly begin to experience any particular feelings of doom.
True, by then, women didn’t seem as interested as they once seemed. My midriff bulge had expanded a tad more. It was not only providing a neat hiding place for my belt buckle, it had begun providing shade for my knees. And, at times, its shadow overtook the tips of my toes. Oh, and I had finally viewed the crown of my own head. Guess what! Things had suddenly grown quite thin back there.
But thank God for giving humans the ability to rationalize. It’s SOOOOO liberating, too. I wasn’t growing “old;” I was merely moving into a more “mature” phase of my life wherein my priorities were in the midst of change. Without much effort on my part, I was easily able to smother the ghastly thought that encroaching old age had begun to put a permanent damper on the “happy days” of my youth.
So what if the amount of hair growing wild from my ear canals was greater than the amount on the crown of my head. It no longer mattered if just two attempted one-arm push-ups now made my head feel like it was going to explode and made me dizzy.
And, unlike the days of my 20s, 30s, and even early 40s, when the euphoria of a gasping sexual orgasm was well worth the possibility of a fatal heart attack, I was no longer willing to chance it and miss extra large helpings of Kentucky Fried Chicken with lots of mashed potatoes and gravy.
I was happy in my youthful years and I’m happy now. But, all things equal, if I could experience the stamina of a 30-year-old while maintaining the intellectual acumen and insights of an educated 70-year-old, I’d gladly accept. But, if I MUST choose between the former and the latter, without hesitation, I’d choose the latter.
But, given the human status-quo, as much as I joke about growing old, I wouldn’t trade places with the healthiest and most intrepid of anyone on this planet, particularly those in the 20 to 49 age group. I base this on two facts, surveys notwithstanding.
Youth in general (children in particular) often do not UNDERSTAND a lot of what they’re saying. So they tend to blurt out some incredible stuff that makes wiser people shudder. Old people, on the other hand, don’t CARE what they’re saying. And, as long as it’s not too radical, they usually either come off as cantankerous old farts or as wisdom personified.
And, contrary to one of this survey’s conclusions, growing old does not dull our memories. To the contrary, our memories become sharper than ever. I’m a perfect example. I’m knocking on 70’s door and I can remember EVERYTHING from my pre-fifty’s youth… whether it happened or NOT.
And, something else those researchers need to think about is this. This country is in one hell of an anxiety-producing pickle. But, because we older geezers have already begun seeing off-ramp signs along life’s freeway, we’ve stopped worrying about it and have decided to enjoy the rest of the journey. But, if I were in my 20s, 30s, or 40s, I’d be worried sick right now.
Joe Walther is a freelance writer and publisher of The True Facts. You may comment on his column by clicking here.