Today’s post was written by Ann Richardson, who is a frequent and popular contributor to international sites, as well as the author of the book, The Granny Who Stands on Her Head: Reflections of growing older. Enjoy, darlings!
It seems to be human nature to think about what is coming ahead, but not too much.
When we were ten, we wondered slightly about what it would be like to be eleven, but only a little bit until the important birthday—and then we thought about it a lot. But by that time, we were already there and, in any case, it was exciting and grown up.
As we headed into our late twenties, we began to wonder what it would be like to be in our thirties, but it was somewhat scary (‘over the hill’), so we drew back from worrying about it too much. Some of us might have convinced ourselves that it was never going to happen.
And so forth.
The older we get, we worry about taking on new responsibilities, seeing our body change, not getting as far as we hoped, not fulfilling our initial dreams and lots more. It is called being human.
And as being ‘old’ seems to be defined as being 60 and above (although there is a lot of dispute about definitions), people in their fifties begin to wonder about that. Being old sounds so final. So end of the road.
Better not go there.
Initial Thoughts About Being Old
No, it is actually good to go there.
First of all, in this day and age, being old lasts a long time. I am about to be 81, and if you have mastered Arithmetic 101, you will realize that 60 was more than twenty years ago for me.
And I am not about to hang up my computer.
Secondly, almost no one feels old at sixty, whatever it says on their driver’s license. Indeed, they feel no older than they did at fifty unless they are very unhealthy, which is a different matter.
And since most people at fifty don’t feel fifty, you can take this to infinite regress.
I think if you woke me up from a deep sleep and asked me how old I was, I would say something like 42. As I have a 54-year old daughter, this is unlikely.
And finally—and most importantly—being old is not something to be frightened of. On the contrary, it is something to look forward to. Yes, there are drawbacks but there are also a lot of benefits that I never saw coming (and perhaps you haven’t either).
Life doesn’t suddenly change when you turn 60 or 65 or whatever retirement age is deemed to be for you. Yes, you may stop working (although you may well choose not to), but so many of life’s pleasures continue.
Why I like Being Old
I really like being old (some people prefer the word ‘older’, but I like to call a spade a spade). I think I am happier than ever. As a matter of fact, I like it so much that I wrote a book about it, called The Granny Who Stands on her Head: Reflections on growing older.
I will try to summarize why.
Let me start by explaining that when you are old, you are not suddenly a different person. This does look sort of obvious, but it took me ages to see it. For years I had thought that when I got old, I would be somehow different – more drab, humorless and without interest (or interests).
But it is not so. The good news is that you arrive in your 60s (and 70s and 80s) the same old you. This has important implications. What gave you joy in your earlier life will give you joy still. And the opposite is also the case. Life is not suddenly different—indeed, it carries on very much the same, with a few important changes which I will come to.
The Ups and Downs of Being Old
So, let’s start with the negative. Some things will continue to be just as difficult as before. Perhaps you hate doing admin. Perhaps people talking too loudly is a problem for you. These will not change.
Personally, I loathe shopping. (I’m the complete opposite of Honey Good in this regard! She loves shopping as well as writing about it.) But me? I worry too much. When my computer is down, I want to scream. I always have and I always will. I could go on, but this gives the flavor of the argument.
But at the same time, all the things you have always enjoyed in life—or certainly most of them—can continue. Like going to concerts, reading, playing bridge, or, indeed, sex. No reason for these to stop.
I love eating out and singing and yoga. And I still stand on my head. You get the idea.
But there is no question that being older does bring new problems. Your face is, of course, more lined, and your body is not what it was. Your memory plays tricks on you. Your energy levels diminish, so you can get less done in a day.
Your life slowly becomes somewhat more constricted—perhaps you move to a smaller place to live, perhaps you give up driving.
Perhaps you get ill—if you get very ill, my arguments may be turned upside down, but remember, not all old people get ill to the point of serious inconvenience.
And it is a time of learning to live with loss. Loss of friends or family (or even your spouse) as aging takes its toll. You begin to think about dying as something that is no longer well over the horizon. Just a little bit more real.
Why I Don’t Fear Growing Old
But then there is the good side—all the new benefits that you accrue. If you are lucky, you have one or more grandchildren and these tend to be the source of enormous joy. They bring a new lift to your life that is completely unexpected and adds real sparkle. (I wrote a book about this too.)
But there is more. There is a calmness that comes from age, a sense that you no longer need to strive to please. Any ambition to achieve has gone, which is very relaxing. You become much more comfortable in your own skin, despite the fact that it is probably less beautiful than before.
And, best of all, there is a new sense of freedom to be yourself, to say what you think and do what you want to do. I really don’t know why it takes sixty years to attain this confidence, but it does seem to do so. And I can assure you that, once this happens, this is just a wonderful place to be.
So don’t fear growing older. Embrace it.
Ann Richardson’s most recent book, The Granny Who Stands on Her Head, comprises a series of reflections on growing older and is partly a memoir. Her three other books explore other people’s thoughts, experiences and emotions in their own words. She has recently also started a free Substack newsletter, with articles on any subject that captures her imagination.
Ann lives with her husband of nearly sixty years in London, England.