Tag Archives: happiness

Old Age

I am handling old age pretty well. Yes, I know that some people would say that sixty-eight is “not old.” Some would tell me with reassuring certainty “age is just a number.” Like hell. At sixty-eight, I am not a young man, that’s for sure, and I am pretty sure that I no longer qualify for the category “middle-aged,” though possibly some might quibble.

I feel that I have entered the terminal bracket of “old age.” I don’t know when that happened, exactly. I’ve had a creeping suspicion for the last year or so, at least, that I was getting there. Well, I think I’m there now, and I’m doing okay.

Someone asked me recently whether I was enjoying retirement. Yes. What do you like most about it? How do you spend your time? I can never think of an impressive answer.

I know that old age is not the same thing as retirement and that some people who haven’t retired find themselves in the old age category. I chose to retire five years ago, and old age happened more recently, but that is a technicality. When people ask me now how I am enjoying retirement they might as well be asking how I am enjoying old age. What do I like most about old age? How do I spend my old-age time?

Well, I am enjoying old age so much I don’t want it to end.

I have been taking a mental inventory of the things that I do these days. It is not an impressive list, and I doubt that anyone would feel inspired by my example. Still, I feel that I am doing pretty well. To some extent, old age offers liberation from the desire to impress.

Exposing how I spend my time may serve some educational purpose for those in or near the “old age” category who want to feel they are doing pretty well. To that end, the less impressive what I do with my time the better for others, who may be doing more interesting things by comparison.

This inventory is no doubt incomplete, but it accounts for most of my old age time:

  • I have acquired the habit of taking a walk every day, unless the weather is crappy with rain. I walk about two miles. It is my primary form of physical exercise, along with a morning jaunt on the treadmill and a weekly yoga class. In summer, I go on bike rides.
  • I have more time to read books in my old age. Detective novels are a favorite (James Lee Burke, Ian Rankin, Walter Mosley, Karin Slaughter, Liza Marklund, John Harvey and Tony Hillerman, to name a few favorite authors). I also have read several epic biographies (Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin) and other books about history.
  • I read the local newspaper (old-fashioned print version) every morning. I also follow the news on NPR and PBS—on television and online—and other news programs, such as Meet the Press. Sometimes I search the Internet for more information, and I have written posts for this blog on political issues that I care about. (See the “tag cloud” in the left side-bar for links.)
  • I have been teaching myself Spanish for the last nine years or so, and I spend time every day practicing the language. From time to time on this blog, I post translations into Spanish of earlier English language posts. (See posts in the “Later, in Spanish” category.)
  • Aging in place—in my case, in the house where my wife and I have lived for more than two decades—means time spent cleaning, shopping, handling bills and bank accounts, doing yard work, making minor repairs and so forth. We have done several home remodeling projects (this year we are remodeling a bathroom), and we do a lot of the work ourselves.
  • We take turns cooking dinner, but there is time in my old age to take my turn more often.
  • We watch an hour or so of television on most nights. Because American network television programming is so dreadful, we use streaming services (Hulu, PBS and Acorn TV) and DVDs from Netflix (now DVD.com). We have particularly enjoyed several excellent Swedish drama series (The Bridge, Beck, Rebecka Martinsson).
  • I volunteer some of my time each week in various activities at a community theater and at the local Unitarian Universalist Church. I have been involved with the theater for thirty years and with the church for about five. Two years ago on this blog, I wrote about my most recent acting role at the theater in a post titled Becoming Neil.
  • We have traveled a little bit in the last five years. I have written about our travels on this blog: Savannah, New Orleans, Costa Rica and the American West.

I suppose the point here is that there is comfort in the humdrum. For me, if not for others of old age, doing well does not require doing a lot. But this is not to suggest that the key to old-age happiness is retreat, disengagement and idleness. Old age can be a time of quiet but heightened awareness. It is a time to strip away the need to figure things out so much.

My yoga teacher has a phrase that she uses to guide the class into savasana—the final pose of rest at the end of the class. The purpose of savasana—also inauspiciously but misleadingly called “corpse pose”—is to relax the body and the mind after a series of more challenging positions. The idea is not to go to sleep, but rather to remain fully conscious but completely relaxed, to allow thoughts to flow in and out of your mind while becoming aware of the quiet conscious moments between thoughts. As our teacher says, it is a time when you have nowhere to go, nothing to do, and absolutely no one you have to be.

It is, I think, an apt metaphor for old age.

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Some other stuff for later,

  • 69
    In Remembering Anticipation, I talked about the first phase of retirement. Robert Atchley is generally credited with describing the unfolding of retirement as a series of phases. Atchley called the first phase “pre-retirement.” Because pre-retirement occurs before actual retirement begins, one is tempted to quibble whether it is a phase…
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    In 2010, Ameriprise Financial, a financial planning company, conducted the New Retirement Mindscape II study to investigate attitudes about retirement. The study, based on a telephone survey of adults in the United States between the ages of 40 and 75, updated an earlier study conducted in 2005 to determine whether…
  • 60
    The English version of this post—Optimal Living—was posted here on January 11, 2016. This Spanish translation is my own and may contain errors. I invite native speakers of the language to comment on my errors and to suggest corrections. Aquí está una traducción en español de Optimal Living. Por favor,…

In Pursuit of Meaning

Happiness—what it is and how to get more of it—has long fascinated this blog. The Pursuit of Happiness observed that “happiness is not a random event” and explored the notion that personal growth is the source of happiness.

“Personal growth can mean learning something new, mastering something difficult, acquiring new insight, or being moved to joy in some inexpressible way by a work of art or piece of music. It can mean developing physical strength, health or endurance. Personal growth may mean achieving a higher level of emotional or spiritual connection with another person or with the natural world.”

Personal growth is about change, how you perceive change in your life, and how you respond to it. Personal growth comes from experiencing life’s changes as positive and affirming.

Optimal Living looked into the idea of “successful aging”—the idea that success in aging means achieving maximum satisfaction and happiness. Optimal aging—or “optimal living”—might be a better objective, because we should not think ourselves unsuccessful if we fail to achieve maximum happiness. There is an underlying hopefulness about seeking an optimal life. Life is not pass or fail. The discovery of what is optimal for ourselves is ongoing and evolving. Some of the benchmarks for what is optimal are quality of life, feelings of satisfaction and happiness, balance, capability, control and purpose.

The Center for Spirituality & Healing at the University of Minnesota has suggested that our goal should be making a more meaningful life for ourselves. Life is “meaningful” according to the Center when you feel “engaged, connected to purpose, and able to connect your gifts and passions with your highest values.” Meaningfulness is a “component of happiness,” and the pursuit of meaning leads to contentment. We can cultivate a sense of meaning through attention to four themes that wrap around a meaningful life: belonging, purpose, transcendence and storytelling.

We cultivate a sense of belonging by forming and deepening relationships and by joining with others in a community.

We find purpose by becoming aware of our individual values, our distinctive passions and our unique abilities—our gifts—and by applying those values, passions and gifts “to bring knowledge, joy, ease, or safety to others.”

Transcendence is our sense of connection to something bigger than ourselves. Transcendent experiences may be found in nature, in creativity or in spirituality. Later, Comma described the experience of transcendence in an earlier post, The Pursuit of Awesomeness and another post, An Expression of Spirituality, explored the intersection of spirituality and transcendence.

Storytelling in the pursuit of meaning refers to the story that we tell ourselves about ourselves. Storytelling is how we talk to ourselves about the significant experiences that have occurred in our lives. We can change how we tell our story. We have the power to edit our story with the passing of time, to view the facts of our experiences in different, more positive ways, to reshape ourselves by the retelling of our past. Just as our perception of change affects our experience of personal growth, the narrative voice that we hear telling our story affects how meaningful we perceive our lives to be.

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Some other stuff for later,

  • 85
    The concept of “successful aging” haunts me of late. Maybe it is just that I have time to think about aging now that I have achieved retiree status. Maybe while I continue getting older and older I wonder whether I am getting as much out of life as I should.…
  • 64
    I was a spiritual skeptic. I believed that compassion and kindness were good things, but I doubted that spirituality had anything to do with it. My sense of morality had its origins in my childhood experiences, the influence of my parents—who somehow managed to teach me right from wrong—and the…
  • 64
    In the hour of my death, would I regret that my life had no meaning? Should that be a regret, after all? It seemed that some people—often those who offered sage advice about aging—advocated a search for meaning in one’s life. It was seemingly a noble cause. If you wanted…