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April 25, 2012 12:22 PM Sweet Bird of Old Age

By Keith Humphreys

A friend asked “Do you really want to become one of those decrepit codgers who, after a morning of doing virtually nothing, trundles into his club for lunch, has a glass of claret and then snores the entire afternoon away in an overstuffed chair next to the fire?”.

In a word: Yes.

It’s socially accepted, indeed almost mandatory, for Americans to dread old age. I simply can’t relate to the sentiment. Indeed, I find myself looking forward to the “declining years” of my life.

The traditional reason to fear old age was that it was a time of economic poverty. But in the developed world today, economic misery has been shifted toward children and young adults. If like me you are over the age of 30, you are past the highest risk years for poverty. And no matter what else happens politically in the future, there is an excellent chance that senior citizen voters will be able to continue voting themselves significant income support from the government.

Some people fear ageing because they think old people are depressed. In reality, they are among the happiest segment of the population, it is young people (specifically, teenagers) who are the most unhappy. There is a good chance you will be happier as a senior citizen than you were in your youth.

Increased terror of death is also an expectation many have of their December years. The best antidote I can offer to expectation is a story from a friend of mine in his late 30s. He decided to take a “roughing it” vacation deep in the Alaskan wilderness at a cabin with no phone, running water or electricity. His grandmother surprised him by saying that she would like to go as well.

“But Grandma” he said, “you’re 85!”

“Exactly” she responded. “What’s the worst that could happen to me? You are the one who is taking the big risk.”

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

Keith Humphreys is a professor of psychiatry and behavioral medicine at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

Comments

  • Jose Hipants on April 25, 2012 3:19 PM:

    Congratulations on your good prospects, professor.
    Look around your club and see how many actual workers are sipping claret. People who spend their working lives as farmers, carpenters, masons, welders, factory workers, etc have a variety of occupation-related illnesses and disabilities to look forward to, often long before retirement age.
    Or try getting laid off from a good tech sector job at age 50+ and see how long your lifestyle holds up when you eventually settle for a service job at minimum wage and no insurance, while you still have kids in college.