How Old Do You Think You Are?


Do we see ourselves as younger?


The other day, I went to a beekeeping meeting, which was actually a picnic.  When we arrived, I was carrying a box with our addition to the potluck picnic and several other items (we are non-meat eaters so I bring our own veggie burgers and presently, my husband is on a special diet to help in his fight against cancer.  The diet includes NO sugars and NO dairy. So I bring the substitutes or variation sauces).

Back to the picnic:  There I was carrying a box and this young lady approached me and asked if she could help me carry the box.  I replied, “No thank you.  I am fine.”  She then insisted that she take the box from me.  I was wondering why she was making such a big deal about this when I realized that she was looking at me as a senior citizen (something I certainly was not feeling) and she was probably taught that you help older individuals with their packages.  Now I do have white hair and this may be what she focused on (Ah, yes, sweet as her offer was, it was probably influenced by an aspect of ageism – everyone who has white hair must be old!)

On the other hand, a study conducted in the U.K. showed that most people see themselves to be at least 10 years younger than their actual age.

This is true of the healthy aging individual,  and healthy I am. However, as soon as one starts to have debilitating physical problems or mental problems, one feels a lot older (ironically at that juncture, still probably not their age, but a whole lot older than their age.)

So, most probably, the young lady saw me for what I was (or maybe older) and I, fitting the profile of the British study, was proceeding as though I was ten years young

Is Aging an Attitude?

A senior citizen in trying to slow down his process of aging by physical fitness exercises

A senior citizen in trying to slow down his process of aging by physical fitness exercises

Now that I am on the cusp of the “twilight years” in my own life, I have been actively contemplating the question of aging.  The outcome has been to want to try and present an alternative to the image of aging that so dominates our society (ah, yes, I am a typical baby boomer through and through!) and provide a more palatable embrace of a thing that is, ultimately, unavoidable, i.e., the aging process.

Yes, we have to confront that aging and decline are part of the life experience.  We will all go through decline either because of disease or as our body parts break down. But as a society, we have pushed back the idea of “old” from 60 to 80, which brings me to the title of this article.

In the end, the aging process really is more about one’s health and outlook on life than on the years one has lived.  No question that those who are dealing with health issues as they age will have a less pleasant time than those who do not and it may be harder for them to have a positive outlook, but the same could be said about a 20 year old confronting health issues.  Ironically a healthy 80 year old can feel as young as 50 and an unhealthy 50 year old can feel 80.

There are also those things that do occur naturally as we age and which we need to accept as part of the aging process (although the health industry is working hard at finding ways to keep those tendencies pushed back).  The neuro-modulators in one’s brain do slow down.  One tends to find oneself in greater frequency making the statement: “I have the name, place, whatever on the tip of my tongue.”  And, yes, there is an increase in the question “Now why did I come into this room?”

The old injuries tend to make themselves more noticed.  Arthritis starts to creep into the joints.

The ability to do in a day seems to only become more challenging.  Things we used to do with ease may not be as easy to do or may not be done with the same vigor.  Body parts do start to sag.

But as soon as you look away from the mirror or get involved in an activity that you love, poof, out of the window goes the sense of, “Jeez!  When did I get so old?” and that person who is at least ten years younger than my birth date tells me I am  [See: How Old Do You Think You Are?] takes over, enjoying and interacting with life.  And, I certainly would never trade the who I am now to the who I was when I was 20.  Sure, I do think that the 20-30 year old body is more attractive than the 50-60 year old body, but I think the 50-60 year old mind is much more interesting than the 20 year old mind.

Our connection with life continues regardless of age and we have the opportunity to explore these years of aging with the same curiosity and gratitude we had when we were younger.  The outcome will be to find out that life is just as rich in experience now as it was then.  Maybe even richer.  But, and this is important, it really has to do with the attitude in which you enter your twilight years.

So although we do change mentally and physically as we age, our attitude going into the aging process is key to how we relate to these changes.


© Yvonne Behrens, M.Ed  2011


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