It’s a pet peeve of mine to hear young people complain about being “old”— especially when the person in question is the ripe old age of, say, 28. I wonder to myself: So, if you live until you are 90, are you planning to spend the next 62-odd years complaining about being old? And, do you know how silly your 90-year-old self will find this youthful you’s complaints?
The fact that some of us will refer to anything over age 21 as “old” highlights a few of our problematic cultural values, which tend to celebrate youth, beauty and naivety above all else, especially in women. I find the wisdom, self-assurance and, hopefully, healthier lifestyles we gain as we age to be much more important than the perceived values of youth. And I think it would do us all a lot of good if we were to revere experience, skill and talent more than smooth skin and flat stomachs.
One of the most important elements of fully enjoying life is the capacity to embrace change — after all, if there’s one thing we can be certain of, it’s that life is full of transitions. And I think that joie de vivre includes embracing the changes we experience in ourselves over time, as well. In healthy relationships, we encourage one another to grow, to learn and change as we meet and face life’s challenges. We should encourage our own transformations, as well, even if our new self includes gray hair or a slower running pace. Of course, embracing change doesn’t mean giving over all control of our destiny. As we age, it’s more important than ever to take care of our bodies, by working to maintain physical fitness and flexibility, eating well, and choosing habits and hobbies that benefit our mental and emotional well-being.
My birthday is in midsummer. Every year I make it my personal goal to tell society’s superficial obsession with youth to shove off, and instead focus on the incredible joy it is to have lived another year in this life, with family I love, friends I enjoy, and work I find fulfilling. I think when we view the evolution of our lives with a broad perspective, we can more easily revel in the self-confidence, sophistication and serenity we gain as we age, and care less about the peak physical condition and boundless energy we may leave behind. In a world where we’re bombarded with marketing messages, it’s easy to fall into cultural traps that tell us we should continually strive to look and act younger. Thwarting those ubiquitous messages can take self-awareness and a bit of self-discipline. So next time you’re tempted to utter a casual complaint about getting older, or an offhand reference to the glories of youth, try pausing. Instead, take a moment to recognize and appreciate the beautiful gift that is each day of life — gray hair and wrinkles included.
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