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Getting Better With Age

BirthdayCakeHow old is “old?” I don’t know exactly, but after my recent birthday I can say that it’s much older than 58. My 12-year-old son told me, “Dad, I’ve always thought of people who are over 60 as being really old. I don’t think of you as really old, so guess I will need to redefine what is old.”

Still, I am old enough to know from personal experience that the body begins to slow down and fall apart as we age. I also know from working with clients that aging can be expensive. One of the biggest threats to a retirement nest egg, besides the possibility of outliving it, is the high cost of medical care for increasing health needs.

All this leaves me wondering if there is anything good about getting older.

Well, yes, there is. A recent article in Consumer Reports on Health found there are some things that actually get better with age:

1. You get wiser. This one seems intuitively obvious to me, but as I once heard a researcher say, “If you can’t measure something, it doesn’t exist.” Research conducted by the Universities of Texas and Michigan found that significantly more older people ranked in the top 20% in wisdom performance and the group with an average age of 65 consistently outperformed younger participants. Maybe there’s some truth to the joke about parents seeming to get smarter as their kids get older.

2. You have fewer difficult emotions. A Gallup survey found that people in their 70’s and 80’s reported less stress, worry, and anger than younger respondents. I found it curious that stress peaks at age 25 and steadily declines, dropping rapidly from age 60 to 73. I guess that leaves me something to look forward to in a couple of years.

3. You become happier. This was a surprise, especially given my projection that increasing aches and pains probably increase unhappiness. Again, the devil is in the definition of “happiness”. I suggest that we often equate happiness with well-being, which can be broken into three segments: physical, emotional, and financial. Stanford University found that aging is actually associated with increased emotional well-being. The article didn’t mention physical and financial well-being. Based on my experience, I expect that physical well-being decreases with age and financial well-being is dependent upon a complex host of variables.

4. Your marriage gets better. The Journal of Social and Personal Relationships found that older couples experience greater satisfaction and positive experiences with each other. The report also says happily married older people have better health, quality of life, and relationships with their children and friends. I think that is another one of those intuitively obvious facts that researchers still feel they must validate.

5. Your relationships get deeper and richer. While younger people have more friends, the quality of older people’s relationships becomes richer. A study done by Case Western Reserve University found that volunteering was the most consistent predictor of cognitive well-being in people over age 72.

Even with all these positives, old age isn’t exactly something to look forward to. Yet it doesn’t mean our golden years will necessarily be overridden with tarnish and rust. Living a healthy lifestyle and planning financially for retirement can certainly help make aging more comfortable. And clearly, aging is better than the alternative of not being around to grow old.

Especially when we factor in one last advantage of aging. I haven’t yet experienced this personally, but I hear plenty about it from clients and friends. According to these sources, the best thing about aging is grandchildren.

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2 Responses to Getting Better With Age

  1. Ed Jacobson August 26, 2013 at 9:48 am #

    Great article, Rick (and happy birthday)!

    I’m reminded of Eubie Blake, the great ragtime pianist and composer who said, when asked by a reporter how he felt in reaching his 100th birthday, “If I knew I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself.”

    (Good that you’re taking care of yourself, Rick.)

    Ed Jacobson

  2. POP August 26, 2013 at 11:42 am #

    Good article. One thing I would add from this 83 year old is the joy of seeing your kids get smarter and gain in wisdom. Another is knowing our grandchildren, who seem to have wisdom beyond their years, will be able to take care of their aging parents. Another is having a grandson that is 12 and my goal, Lord willing, is to see him graduate from college with either a Master or PHD degree, marry and have at least one child. That would put us at about 104. Wow, you better take good care of our portfolio. POP