Today is my 50th birthday.
Damn. That number can make me want to put my head down.
But as a friend recently sang to his turning-50 wife (and the assembled celebrating masses), “we’re younger now than we’ll ever be.”
Depending on where you are on life’s continuum, you may have different responses to the number 50. Born more recently, and you might saying, “Well YEAH, you are OLD.” Or if you were born before me, you might say (as I do to myself when people bemoan turning 30 or 40), “Oh, pul-EASE. You are a babe. A mere child.” Or, if you, too were born in 1964, you might swallow solemnly and say, “Yeah. 50.”
I completely get all of those responses, since age, as it turns out, is mostly about perspective. It is my sincere hope that I will look back on this day, five or ten or twenty-five or even fifty years hence and think “Damn, I was so young in 2014!”
Better yet, what if I could think that right now?
Hazel is 84 years young and is living in the apartment in our basement. She wields a hoe like a demon and has whipped our weedy gardens into well-tended beauty. She still works several days a week “taking care of old people.” Hazel reminds me every day that the way we think of ourselves has a huge impact not just on our attitudes and perspectives, but on our physical body.
In more than three decades of research, Ellen Langer, has discovered that the way we think of ourselves has a powerful effect on our physical health. In her famous 1979 Counter-Clockwise study, she found that elderly men who acted as if they were twenty years younger for a week showed measurable improvements in their height, weight, gait, posture, vision, joint flexibility, and intelligence. They even looked younger.
Our youth-loving culture wants us to think that after we’ve lived a certain number of years, we should act and look and feel a certain way. Sometimes I find myself rejecting an outfit or an activity because I think I’m too old. When I notice this belief pop up, I take the opportunity to consider where that thought is coming from. Is that the voice of my parents or my children or a magazine? If I want to wear polka dotted pants or a two-piece bathing suit or my hair in pig tails, who is telling me I shouldn’t? According to whom am I too old?
Especially when see Hazel out in the garden or I recall Dr. Langer’s Counter-Clockwise study, I figure the younger I act, the younger I’ll be.