Years ago, feminist pioneer Betty Friedan said, “Aging is not ‘lost youth’ but a new stage of opportunity and strength.” Unfortunately, rather than embrace her words, many people today dread the aging process.
Our culture is obsessed with youth and beauty. Instead of being happy to just look their best, women get injections at the first sign of wrinkles and they do it at increasingly younger ages. Americans spent greater than $16.5 billion in cosmetic plastic surgery and fillers in 2018. The results of this poll say that the amount of money women spend on their appearance is enough to pay college tuition or buy a home. Even men are starting to follow this expensive trend.
It’s not your fault if you are concerned about your appearance. In our culture, we are bombarded by increasingly unrealistic and unattainable beauty ideals. With this much cultural pressure, you would have to feel very secure about yourself not to feel some level of insecurity. We are constantly judged by the way we look. Moreover, it can feel like we are in competition with other women, especially when we experience fat-shaming or notice it happening even to celebrities who put on a few pounds. Men also experience these types of discrimination.
Age discrimination is just as rampant. Unfortunately, media portrayals of older people make them appear dependent, helpless, unproductive, or demanding. Most seniors are actually self-sufficient consumers with time, money, and abilities to give to society.
How can you possibly think of aging as anything but a tremendous loss and the enemy you must fight at all costs with so much pressure to be young and beautiful? Believe it or not, there are many benefits to aging that you also can feel grateful for. And, the best of it, changing your mindset regarding aging can help you to have a more balanced perspective.
Significant Aging Advantage #1- Greater Happiness
Dr. Laura Carstensen, director of the Stanford Center on Longevity has been studying aging for years. Her results show that in general, people are happier as they age. Despite the losses involved with older age, you are not more likely to feel depressed and alone. Younger people generally are more unhappy than older ones.
Don’t get the wrong idea: older people aren’t simply happy-go-lucky. They have mixed and complex emotions but are generally happier.
Significant Aging Advantage #2: More Resilience to Stressful Situations
Older people report more positive emotions and less negative ones than younger people. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic with older people at much greater risk, older people generally handled the stress better. However, it’s important to note that these studies exclude people experiencing extreme poverty.
Significant Aging Advantage #3: Wisdom and Compassion
As you get older, you are generally less likely to focus on accomplishing goals and focus more on your present life. You become more aware of the passage of time and that often leads to a desire to enjoy life. You learn from experience that the worst of bad times are temporary, which can make it easier for you to bounce back. You may also learn from your mistakes, so you might make better decisions as you age. Older adults often develop more emotional empathy for others.
Significant Aging Advantage #4: Long Time Social Connections
Although we lose friends and partners as we age, our interactions with our social networks are more satisfying and the amount of social support stays the same. People may drop difficult friendships and have more interactions with the people in their lives that provide greater meaning. As we age, we may also become better at avoiding conflict.
Significant Aging Advantage #5: More Benefits to Society
Even though people are living longer and more productive lives, people tend to stereotype older people as having worsening health problems and becoming a burden to society. The research shows that the greatest decline in cognitive ability does not begin until someone is in their 80’s. Even if you are slower cognitively, you likely have vast experience and advice to offer to those who do not have that level of wisdom or experience. Research shows there are several societal advantages to an aging population, including: less criminal activity, more political involvement, work abilities, and volunteer work among others. Throughout history, older adults were treated with respect and appreciated for their ability to be wise counsel to younger people as a result of their immense experience and wisdom.
It’s Time to Embrace Aging
Aging can be a respite from the rat race of pushing to accomplish more and an escape from the tyranny of beauty our culture demands. It can be a time to relax and enjoy the fruits of your years of hard work, and a time to focus on what you want rather than demands from raising your family or a demanding job. You could see it as your time.
Aging is not your enemy, and it can be your friend. Sure, it has its pros and cons, just like everything else in life. Maybe baby boomers can start a trend of aging being cool again.