As I aged through another birthday, I noticed a thought-provoking study by a University of California professor. It was more medicinal than a shot of Geritol.
The professor, as described in a Time magazine article, asked two groups – 30-year-olds and 70-year-olds – which group was more likely to be happier. Both groups pointed to the 30-year-olds. But when they were asked to rate their own individual happiness, the old folks won.
I am not surprised. As the magazine article noted, children see the world as one giant theme park whereas senior citizens have been on the rides thousands of times. The young are eager, the old are somewhat satisfied.
The 30-year-old is striving to get ahead and worried about how he or she stacks up. At 70, we don’t really care how others evaluate us. Gee, some of our counterparts are already dead and can’t offer an opinion anyway, and frankly our life doesn’t revolve around new cars, bigger houses, or fashionable clothing. At that stage in life, a working hearing aid is more important than a big-screen TV.
The 30-year-old is often filled with regrets and second-guessing. Why didn’t he buy Apple stock at $80 per share? Would he be better off if he had accepted that new job? Should she take the promotion if it means relocating? Should she have noticed problems in the early years of their failed marriage?
At 70, we don’t lose sleep over the road not taken. We appreciate the overall experience – both good and bad – and for every lost opportunity we can also find comfort in our decisions that worked out.
The 30-year-old experiences frustration in the relentless job of parenting. The 70-year-old is more relaxed. Sure, bring the grandchildren over; we’ll enjoy them, spoil them, and then give them back.
The 30-year-old attempts to process facts and situations. The 70-year-old has seen it all before and has molded life experience into a semblance of wisdom. Oh, he or she is not always correct – look at whom older voters elected as president two years ago – but they usually refrain from overreacting or rash decisions. They know that time heals most wounds. As the Time article reads, “That business of realizing that you may never achieve a long-desired goal can actually be a positive experience. After banging your head against the wall for 40 years to make partner or become department chair, the day you accept you’re free to quit trying comes as a relief.”
This is not to say senior citizens board a joyride with each successive birthday candle. Aches and pains can morph into a major medical crisis, retirement incomes may be too small, the loss of a partner can bring loneliness, and we all know what’s waiting for us around the bend. However, Medicare and Social Security stop most from falling into an abyss, and our wants and needs are far less than when we were juggling PTA meetings, piano lessons, and soccer practice. Our tombstone could read, “Been there, done that!”
Would I want to be younger? Of course! But only if I could know then what I have discovered on this long and winding road.