Act Your Age

IMG_3417“It takes a very long time to become young.” ~ Pablo Picasso

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.

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5 comments
  1. Blue said:

    First, Happy Birthday, Susan!! I am now 55 and I do not feel it at all! People often ask me how long I have been playing the guitar and I say 39 years. They say, “oh you must have been a child then.” I say, “No, I was in high school.” Wow. Yeah it’s all about perspective. Something that forever changed me was a neighbor and friend I lived next door to for 12 years. She was 40 years older than me and the year I turned 31 I invited her to my birthday party. At 71 she said to me, “I hate to tell you this–but the 50s were the best! ” I enjoyed going over to her house and watching movies or going out to dinner. She was more youthful then many friends my own age. I remember once we were at a movie and we ran into her friends there (then in their early 80s) and she seemed embarrassed to be associated with them. They seemed so “old” and she was so young in her outlook. I really truly think the 50s are not old at all. I work with lots of people well in their 80s and I see what is “old”. 50 is not old–not by a long shot! I am proud to be in my mid 50s an for all of the life experience I have gained so far. I surprises me when I hear people thinking that 50 is old. I try to imagine a day when I really am old–say around 90 or so. I don’t want to look back on my 50s and say, “wow, if only i knew how young i was then!”
    Enjoy your 50th year!!

    • Thank you, Blue! Interestingly, part of what Ellen Langer’s research shows is the experiences we have with older people when we are younger, has a huge impact on how we think about age and therefore how we age! I love being a youthful 50! xo Susan

  2. Blue said:

    That makes sense! My friend Trudy was an artist with a studio at McGuffey. She didn’t start painting until she was 50! It was cool that her remaining years she was very creative and lived a interesting life. Her New Year’s Eve parties were the best of any I had ever attended. I was always the youngest guest too. 🙂

  3. jorge said:

    age is just a number, the matters is how you live in life

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