On my birthday this year, I posted about how great it felt to be 42. With all that I’d heard and read about women on the other side of forty– who knew? I’m happier than I’ve ever been. Fascinated by my state of mind, I read several books about women and aging, trying to figure out if other people, especially women, felt like I did.
One of my favorites is called Between a Rock and a Hot Place: Why Fifty is Not the New Thirty by Tracey Jackson. Jackson is hilarious. I was laughing out loud for the whole read. Jackson and I are different in many ways, our attitudes about plastic surgery being just one, but she writes totally honestly, it seems, about what getting older is like for her. Her basic thesis is that if you accept change, go with the flow, don’t try to be thirty, life is different but good.
As I read, I started to wonder if perhaps menopause isn’t about “drying up” and nature having no use for you anymore, as I’d heard in the past. Maybe menopause includes focusing your body’s energy away from reproduction, using precious resources elsewhere. Curious, I read The Wisdom of Menopause by Christiane Northrup, an ob/ gyn. She goes into a multitude of ways that she believes menopause jump starts the brain into a mind body revolution. Again, Northrup is not saying fifty is thirty. She’s basically saying life is a mysterious adventure.
Another book I absolutely love is Prime Time by Jane Fonda. This book is so brave. Like Jackson’s, it’s another honest account about growing older. It may not be your story, but it’s Fonda’s and she tells it well. Though the book jacket and PR material promotes the book as “making the most of all of your life” this book is really about the “Third Act” as Fonda calls it. I guess the publishers thought billing it that way wouldn’t sell. Thank God Jane Fonda is Jane Fonda and can write about whatever she wants and get it published.
There seems to be no subject this writer is afraid of tackling from death to money to sex. Fonda has one chapter I love about how society as a whole benefits from older people. This perspective is such a different take than what you generally hear from the media about the older generation being a huge, economic drain on everyone else. Fonda writes about “generativity” an idea crucial to healthy aging where your focus moves from yourself to “a broader social radius, giving to the community and larger world.” She also writes about the “silver market:”
Economists argue that there is an important dividend that comes from the increasing number of older people who are relatively well off and who now make up the greater proportion of the market share. Many retirees have accumulated wealth and other significant spending power, which stimulates jobs and financial growth. Older individuals make invaluable investments in real estate, continuing education, technologies for independent living, travel, tourism, health services, and the like…
A study by the MetLife Mature Market Institute reported that the estimated spending power of baby boomers will soon exceed $2 trillion dollars annually…however, the degree to which the silver market thrives is highly policy dependent. In countries where sound retirement plans are provided, older individuals feel secure to spend their wealth rater than save it…
Older individuals donate more to universities, charities, and civil organizations than at any other age…
Older citizens are active citizens; their efforts to volunteer help hold up communities. They organize and participate in civic organizations, run elections, mentor young people, support their peers in long term car and hospice, lead recreation groups, and assist visitors and hospital, libraries, schools and museums.”
Another book I read is called Fortytude by Sarah Brokaw who is a therapist and noticed many of her clients became happier after 40. Though I understand her curiousity leading her to write the book when so few have been written on this, Brokaw is my age and I found those written by people who had actually experienced more aging more interesting.
I also read The Age of Miracles: Embracing the New Midlife by Marianne Wiliamson and though it had some good parts, it seemed to mostly be the same material covered in her previous, better books, just repackaged.
I do have a question that I can’t seem to find an answer to. After reading all these books, I want to know: do emotions age? There’s quite a bit written about the brain aging, and of course, the rest of the body aging. But it seems, at least from what I’ve read and lived, older adults experience emotions just as intensely as babies. And if emotions don’t wither, perhaps, as we grow older, do we potentially become more skilled in handling them? Could this be why I’m happier?
You may want to check out: “Happiness is an Old Brain” by Barbara Strauch (originally from her book The Secret Life of the Grown Up Brain and reprinted elsewhere). Haven’t read the full book, but this article was flagged by a professor of mine, after I did a presentation about happiness.
Emotions don’t age, they mature…Or not! Although I found Jane Fonda’s comments on her recent hard-driving book promotion tour interesting, I continue to find her a slow developer. Just my take on other people’s aging process on public display. Basically, if you’re happy, you’ll likely become happier. If you were miserable and/or only focusing on externals as your asset, aging isn’t likely going to work for you. Who the hell wants to stay stuck at 30? Eternally, we have to work it. At every age.
I’d say that’s certainly an astute observation and a prime factor in one’s happiness at this point in life. Realizing one is equipped now with the emotional toolbox and life skills you’ve developed for yourself, there’s a confidence in your ability to take on whatever challenges may come. Realizing also what you’ve accomplished and the freedom you have to pursue your dreams and ambitions is bound to stoke your joie de vivre!