Have you ever noticed a woman rocking a silver bob and a wrinkled smile, breezing across the street with confidence and style? What about the debonair older man with slicked back hair and an easy laugh, full of jokes and stories.
It really shouldn’t be surprising that senior citizens are consistently ranked as the happiest group of people on the planet. According to research such as a landmark study by Laura Carstensen, a psychologist at Stanford, seniors experience steadily lower rates of anger, sadness, and fear, while gaining greater peace of mind and a deeper appreciation for life.
Unfortunately, aging has not entered into our collective consciousness as something to look forward to - quite the contrary.
The beauty industry makes billions of dollars telling people they need to look younger. The heroines of popular movies and TV are usually young people, while older adults are shown in a very limited light, or else left out of the story altogether.
Perhaps because of this, young people view aging as a process of decline or erasure. They worry about what parts of them they might lose as they age, rather than imagining how they could evolve in a positive direction, or what they might gain.
If you are a senior, you know that the younger generations and the mainstream media fail to understand one of life’s best-kept secrets: There are some major perks of growing old.
THE LUXURY OF TIME
When you become an older adult, time presents itself to you in abundance. This may seem ironic since you don’t have as many years of your life left to live, but you have much more time in your day available for the things that truly bring you happiness, as well as the wisdom to know what that means for you.
The lifestyle of seniors is more relaxed and leisurely. They don’t need to run around town like crazy people, cramming a million errands into a single day or caring for multiple people at once; instead, they can relax into a lifestyle filled with enjoyable, worthwhile pursuits, such as spending time with family, communing with nature, or volunteering in the community.
Just take a moment to think about this: how many forty-somethings count their precious few vacation days and carefully plan out a week just like the typical one you’re about to have!
THE POWER OF PERSPECTIVE
The latest hairstyle everyone is talking about? The famous name splashed across the tabloids? Who will remember five years from now!
As the years pass by, you watch the trends of each decade come and go. You experience the highs and lows of infinite weeks, sometimes filled with joy and bliss, sometimes struck by tragedy. Through all this, you come to see much more clearly what really matters in life, and what won’t stand the test of time.
With their lifetime of perspective, studies show that seniors have less patience for superficial concerns, while making more time for relationships, hobbies, and interests.
Many seniors rank time spent with family and friends as the most important factor for maintaining a high quality of life. They understand that as their friends pass away and their grandchildren grow up, every moment spent in the company of those they love is a gift that they will treasure.
Seniors also realize the value of giving back to their community. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, people over age 65 vote at a higher rate than any other age group, and volunteer more frequently as well. Younger people could learn a lesson from seniors and commit more time to service-oriented activities that provide a deeper and more spiritual sense of satisfaction and connection.
LESS STRESS AND SOCIAL PRESSURE
Young people worry that as they get older they’ll lose their smooth skin, their full head of hair, their correctly working knees… but do they realize that they get to shrug off some negative things in their life too, like extreme stress and social pressure?
As we age, we experience less pressure to look or act a certain way, and don’t feel compelled to prove ourselves or constantly strive for more.
Seniors spend less time worrying, improving, fixing, changing, and instead can focus on just living, just being.
It may sound a little demoralizing to think that society expects less of seniors, but actually there’s a big silver lining there--it’s easier for you to exceed expectations! It’s easy to surprise and delight people when you do remember your daughter’s friends’ name or you can play a full game of golf at 85.
The lessing of pressure is not just external, it’s internal, too. Seniors report higher levels of self-love and acceptance, and have an easier time getting along with their peers.
According to a study at the University of Michigan that asked for advice to a series of “Dear Abby” letters, subjects in their 60s were better than younger participants at imagining different points of view, coming up with resolutions and suggesting compromises.
In this way, seniors have learned how to relate to others better, which leads to a smoother, less judgmental, less stressful life.
Kids like to make jokes about some of the hobbies that seniors adopt, like bird watching or scrapbooking. Really though, the joke is on them! Give them their noisy video games and their shrieking conversations. You get peace, tranquility, and the beauty of mother nature or the pleasure of creativity to fill your days and make you smile.
It’s never too late to try something new. Many people discover a talent only once they reach old age, or else finally get to pursue the passion they always had whispering to them in the back of their mind but never made time for.
Older adults become painters, gardeners, woodworkers, chefs, community activists. They take up swimming, yoga, baking, writing, reading.
Seniors have the time to explore their interests and the perspective to understand how important it is to to spend their time doing things that bring them joy and contentment.
“I’ll do that when I retire” is a frequent refrain in the 30s-50s. Well, when that day arrives, it’s your chance to take advantage!
From free entry into museums to travel agencies that organize group trips catered to seniors, there are lots of opportunities for seniors to get outside and see the world.
Popular options for traveling as an older adult include renting an RV so you can go anywhere while bringing the comforts of your home along with you, or setting sail on all-inclusive cruise where all you have to do is walk on board and the rest is taken care of.
If you’re a more outdoorsy type, you can buy a lifetime pass to every national park in America for just $80 as a senior. If you’d rather explore cities, tour packages sometimes offer discounts for you as well.
As for the transportation itself, airlines like Southwest, American, United, and British Airways offer senior discounts, while the train line Amtrak gives you 10% off to explore 46 states and 500 stops without ever leaving the ground.
You’ve earned this chance to travel. Your kids are grown, your savings have kicked in… the world is your oyster.