6 Reasons to Look Forward to Growing Old

6 Reasons to Look Forward to Getting Older FinalAs someone in his early sixties, I feel like I’m sometimes asked to be a spokesman for those in the “older” generations who are adamant (or even defiant) about staying smack in the center of life. I make no bones about my “live long, drop dead” philosophy (I even made accessories to the effect.) Numerous times I’ve shared that in some ways I’m just reaching what I consider my peak. There are days I genuinely think I’ve never had more fun, contentment and satisfaction in my life than I do right now. Unfortunately, the dominant culture pushes a different message for those of us over 50 (and definitely over 60). I’m talking about the message that these decades inevitably put us on the sidelines, ushering in an inevitable fade-out of all our faculties and enjoyments. But guess what? I’m here to tell you some good news: that doesn’t have to be your destiny. In fact, there’s a whole lot to look forward to as you grow older.

It’s yet another bizarre, perturbing product of modernism that we don’t focus on the positive aspects of aging. The historical and sociological truth is that cultures throughout time have paid exceptional honor, respect, and social currency to their elders—and for good reason. Our primal ancestors undoubtedly depended on those with the most life experience to help support and teach critical survival skills and adaptive reasoning.

In fact, a pivotal cultural boon in humanity’s evolution some 30,000-35,000 years ago came in large part, experts suggest, because of increasing longevity. Longer average lifespans meant more older people around who could pass on information and show the rest of the group how it’s done—not to mention offer childrearing support for the young members of their groups. The more life experience Grandpa Grok had, the more practice of many arts he could draw (and teach) from. The more years Grok had seen, the more scenarios and outcomes he could recall for reasoning and anticipating current conflicts and crises. Knowledge matters for survival, and without ample means of recording information (minus cave drawings), it needed to come straight from the direct instruction of older generations themselves.

But I get it. In a society where aging too often coincides with the automatic surrender to preventable lifestyle diseases, we can get a grossly skewed impression. That said, when we take care of ourselves with a mind toward compressed morbidity (living as well and able-bodied as possible to the very end), our later decades can be some of our most satisfying. Maybe it’s time I accept that poster boy challenge after all.

Sure, when I was younger I wouldn’t have anticipated this turn of events. I was too busy doing, striving, training, moving onto the next thing. As exciting as those years were with an elite athletic profession, a succession of business ventures, and (later) two small children, I frankly wouldn’t trade what I have now to go back. I was often tired, anxious, overworked, overtrained and, well, unhealthy compared to how I feel now. These days I’m enjoying so many things I didn’t have the time, focus or priorities to appreciate then. And it’s not just a matter of the dust having settled. I’m still busy! But there are aspects of me that have fundamentally changed—aspects that could only transform over the long arc of time and experience.

In unfortunate contrast, youth more than ever today is set on a precarious pedestal with the message that these are your glory days; the only days you’ll feel good and be the center of attention. From a health perspective, it’s often a case of better live it up before your crummy habits catch up with you. From a developmental perspective, however, there’s something maybe even sadder—the assumption that your best times, your biggest joys, your most valuable achievements are behind you two to three decades in. No wonder so many young people struggle emotionally these days.

Before I get to the research—to the specifics and stories—let me offer this in no uncertain terms. If you expect your life to be a static continuum of the same activities and ventures, the same routines and figures with equal to increasing gratification, you’ll very likely be disappointed.

On the other hand, if you’re willing to trust your own life as an exploration through varying phases, interests and redirects, you’ll find that your later decades hold as much (if not more) capacity for depth, joy and enrichment as your younger years. Certainly good health can and will help, but attitude (I’ve so often said it) ultimately determines your course. And that (more than health) is always a choice. That crabby older man you know was probably a crabby younger man. Age, like alcohol, exacerbates the traits that were already there.

As in every transition—whether it be reclaiming health, choosing a new career path, or having a child, your willingness to change and be changed will largely determine your success and contentment.

Now let’s dig into some of these benefits.

1. You may have more of a handle on your emotions

There is something to the idea that (many) people mellow with age. Studies suggest that people in their later decades have an easier time regulating their emotions, particularly anger. While we might all develop our emotional awareness, as we age those emotions tend to crowd out less. In research scenarios, older adults reported better capacity for resisting impulsive responses and for maintaining goal-directed behavior. Likewise, older study participants showed heightened “clarity of emotions” and better regulation strategies than their younger counterparts.

2. You get better at relationships

I’ve heard many people say as much, but there’s solid research to back up this assertion. Older adults put a higher value and attention on the emotional dimensions of their interactions with others. As a result, they may be more attuned to other people in their relationships and, in conjunction with their greater emotional regulation, more able to listen and respond empathetically. Additionally, research shows, they’re better at recalling the emotional dimension of their interactions and experiences. I’ve heard people say they’ve gotten “soft” or “sentimental” in their “old age.” In truth, it’s likely a growing capacity for compassion and a deeper appreciation for the less obvious gifts and meaning within their experiences.

3. You may feel more content

A few years ago multiple national and international studies suggested people around the globe commonly experience happiness in a “U-shaped pattern” over the course of their lifetimes. Although where this pattern fell within particular ages varied from culture to culture, the pattern held as a seemingly universal experience. Researchers even noted that apes appeared to move through the same model based on their caretakers’ reports.

Study authors noted that the midpoints generally represented the most crowded years when people are likely to feel overwhelmed by responsibilities and perhaps disillusioned with certain paths they’d chosen. Yet, something shifts that swings happiness upward again, whether it be acceptance of their circumstances, a round of achievements, a lightening of the load, or a renewal through new interests or opportunities.

4. You gain new cognitive and creative abilities

Yup, that’s right—new. All the talk today is usually about maintaining what we have, and while that’s important, aging offers its own novel benefits on the neurological front.

In the latter half of life, the two hemispheres of the brain increasingly integrate and functionally intertwine. Additionally, our “patterning” capacity (the ever complexifying networking of our many ideas and experiences that create new connections and combinations) further develops in these decades.

While these likely are meant to help compensate for the minor declines in certain cognitive abilities such as working memory, these enhanced means of cognitive integration open the door for more creative thought and advanced reasoning.

5. You may be more satisfied in your career

An Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll found that 9 out of 10 workers over the age of fifty were very or somewhat satisfied in their current jobs and were happier in their positions than younger workers. Not only do many older workers enjoy a greater sense of security because of higher income and promotions, but they reported also feeling more respected in their workplaces.

There’s a certain gratification that comes with appreciating a long span of growth and accomplishment in a given field or across fields for those who have changed career tracks. In the later years, when it’s typically less about striving, you may have a unique opportunity to look back and recognize the gifts and lessons of your professional development.

6. You’ll be better at navigating life’s challenges

Let’s be honest. When we’re young, we’re winging it. There’s a thrill to this exploratory, experimental time. Anything can feel possible. It’s vital to go through that period, to know that brand of euphoric, idealistic fervor—and, yet, it’s not the end-all.

In our later years, a deeper patience often settles in—a patience and present-mindset that softens the emotional impact of any decline we might see in ourselves perhaps, but also a patience with the world around us. Having seen so much of life at that point, our youthful idealism might wear differently these days, but it doesn’t necessarily change our enthusiasm or drive. Purpose matters in these decades, but it may become more personal as we home in on our remaining time to live life and achieve the changes we want to see.

Older adults are also better, research tells us, at focusing on the positive in life. In studies, older adults were more likely to remember positive than negative images or recall “false positives.”

So what does this all come down to?

With age, you can gain the unprecedented gift of the bigger perspective—on your own life and more.

While I’m grateful for all the challenges and phases and joys of my younger days, there’s a sense of groundedness, self-possession and culmination I get to enjoy now.

As something called socioemotional selectivity theory suggests, we become more content with life as we age and grow more conscious of our limited number of years left. Our mortality settles in, and there’s a kickstart response to that. We feel called to take our lives more seriously, to make our experiences count and to be grateful for the life we have today. Some people call it making peace with one’s life—moving through the last years and decades with a maturity to accept life on life’s terms (termination included) but to still find your way through it with more gratitude and gracefulness.

This is the part my thirty-something self never would’ve been able to fully, viscerally understand (beyond mere intellectual comprehension) because it wasn’t the task of that stage and shouldn’t be. With years comes a greater appreciation for the composite—how we’ve lived our own lives and how we still wish to experience it. But it also brings a greater reverence for continuity—the overarching human story we get to play a part in for a little while. It simultaneously helps keep me rooted in the immediate present and expands my awe for all the possibilities I’ve seen, will see and won’t have a chance to see in this lifetime.

Thanks for reading today, everyone. I’d love to hear what’s been true for you about the benefits of later decades—the ones you anticipated and maybe those you never saw coming. Have a great end to the week.

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TAGS:  Aging

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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34 thoughts on “6 Reasons to Look Forward to Growing Old”

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  1. What a deeply encouraging post! So many people are too caught up in how to avoid aging, instead of taking the time to see the positive aspects that clearly come with it.

    1. Very encouraging! Sometimes I get a little down in thinking about all the negative aspects of aging but this post offers some peace of mind.

    2. Mark, you words inspire, as does your program. I’m 57 now and have never looked or felt better and I’ve only been (approx. 90/10) paleo for 3 months. Life is what you make it! Grab hold, and get your head out of your phone!

  2. Wow. Simply wonderful. Happiness and trials are something that await you in every part of life, but I love the idea that the U shaped curve starts putting us right back at the top of that happiness once we reach a certain age. It’s a very positive reason to anticipate the future!

  3. Hear! Hear! I truly bought into the ‘you’re not 20 any more’ meaning there are things I could not, should not do at my age. Poppycock! (Can I say that?) When I first started reading MDA 7 years ago, I was skeptical. Now I am living proof albeit a constant work in progress and loving a full life. At 55 the future is bright.

  4. I’ve read somewhere that as we pass through menopause (or MANopause), part of the midlife change is that we shift from using our frontal cortex to using the midline portion of the brain, which allows us to really think about stuff rather than making snap decisions based on emotion. In my case, it has enabled me to learn the meaning of “knowing when to hold ’em and fold ’em.” In my younger years, I was all too eager to solve world and family problems, as well as put my .02 out there for others to feast on–not so much any more. The desire to pump my wisdom (what little I had) into cyberspace has gone, and a new feeling has emerged: the ability to sit, keep quiet, and let others learn for themselves (or let them teach me new tricks).

  5. I cannot say enough YES to this article. If you’re on a path to take care of yourself, old age is not the hyperbolic dreaded curse it’s often made out to be. It CAN be for some folks, but like you said, Mark, who you were along your journey helps dictate the kind of older person you’ll become and the experiences you’ll have.

  6. Awesome post! Number 5 sure doesn’t apply to me but I love all the rest!

  7. “Youth is wasted on the young” 🙂

    I am the same age as Mr. Sisson, so I found today’s post to be relevant and uplifting.

  8. At 53 I feel better in just about every way than I ever have. My wife tells me I am going through my second childhood and I say fan~f#####g~tastic!

  9. Good article. I would like to add #7: Getting old means time is running out. Treat each new day with appreciation and respect (because it isn’t a given), and live as fully as you are able. Count your blessings daily, even if you feel you were behind the door when they were passed out. There’s always going to be at least one thing to be thankful for.

    1. Another thought: Stay as far away from drugs (both prescription and OTC) as your body will allow. Some pharmaceuticals are necessary, at least short-term, but most are easily replaced by a healthier lifestyle.

  10. Great post! After crossing the half century milestone, I have found I need to rely more on my mind than my body. In my twenties and even thirties I could and would do almost anything without thinking about the consequences. Now that I let my mind lead, my ability to improve my health, diet and activity levels has enabled me to feel better than I have in decades. I felt “older” at 40 than I do now. I still know I have more to improve but the prospect of feeling better and being more active in the years to come is enlightening.

  11. At 65 I’m still as immature and ridiculous as I’ve ever been. But I’m healthier than hell. As a struggling musician most of my life I couldn’t afford medical insurance so I had to take proper care to live a healthy, meditative life. Now that I have Medicare I still refuse to see a doctor. It’s been over 40 years since I’ve seen a doc. and my health, living primally, with deep emphasis on gut health, puts away nearly anyone my age. How many 65’s do you see sprinting barefoot at the park?

  12. Such a great post Mark!! I’m turning 50 in a few months and have never felt so optimistic about my life. And judging from the comments many of your readers are in the same boat.

  13. My climbing partner is turning 66 and is in the most ridiculous shape. He can climb 5.11s and 12s while I struggle up 10s. He is also dedicated to yoga, hiking and all sorts of other outdoorsy activities.

    He is an inspiration!

  14. Thanks Mark. Your post today brings up the modern concept of “retirement”. Retirement? I’m almost 60 and everyone my age can’t wait till they can retire. It’s the last thing on my list. I’m getting ready to launch a new company that will require more work and learning lots of new things. Can’t wait for all the fun. I’m going to blast into old-age and then go down swinging.

  15. Thumbs up for the aging, Mark! I am in recovery for addiction for 5 years now and these aging concepts are very similar to recovery concepts. Interesting. Living in the present and one day at a time are the common sayings. I am much more aware of my emotions now than I have ever been. And, this does help in all my relationships. I practice acceptance and thanks, and this helps with contentment. I love your posts and abide by the Primal way of life myself. Love it! Thanks.

  16. This way of eating and exercising has me feeling better at age 58 than I did in my 30s and 40s. I have also learned to be more kind to others and also not to sweat the “small stuff”. My level of contentment increases daily.

  17. Thanks again Mark for a great post. As a 25 year old I at first didn’t think this one would apply to me much, but as I started reading I realized that this is another perfectly timed post for me. What really rang true for me is “trust your own life as an exploration through varying phases, interests and redirects” – I may even print this and add to my inspiration mirror. I am going through some big transitions and life decisions right now and I needed perspective on how this is all just a phase and I’m not actually running out of time to do all the things I want to do before I turn 30 haha (this sounds silly, but is how I am feeling and it’s stressing me out!)

  18. I enjoyed your your appreciation of being blessed with your life.
    I have always felt blessed. Because am happy to read that you have so many thankful people that responded. It gets better. My oldest son is 67. My youngest son is 46. There are three boys and a daughter in between. I was employed at age 45 and stayed in transportation for 30 years. I retired at 75 because operating a bus in Los Angeles took it’s toll on my body. I had to retire but I have always enjoyed life and finally at age 78 I attended Senior Yoga classes that I thoroughly enjoyed.
    I have always been healthy despite the fact that I had Polio when I was 23.
    Life is all about how you look at it. Live every day to the fullest and enjoy what you do. Always look forward to tomorrow and know you will have another day to enjoy.
    Every day is a gift and we are blessed to have them. Live with an attitude of gratitude. You will have no regrets.

  19. Today is my 74th birthday. Mark’s Daily Apple is the only blog I read every day. It is unfailingly upbeat and timely and celebrates the joy of life. It is a blueprint for life in every aspect of life. I’ve been a worrier all my life and now I am a Warrior for Life.
    Thanks to moderation in all things (including moderation) life is good. For my body I do yoga with my peers with a wonderful teacher who caters to our strengths and weaknesses, and Yang style tai chi every single day. Now instead of being very formal about it I may do the exercises to head banging music, flute, or the Rolling Stones. It is MY tai chi after all. Interesting information about both sides of the brain integrating with age. I’m learning Italian and Spanish through on-line courses by Duolingo and Memrise and finding that my brain is flexible enough to acquire at least “hotel language.” My mother died recently at 94 and it was amazing how many people considered her their best friend. She lived intensely and died quietly at a time of her own choosing, not suicide, letting go. I keep her ashes in the room I’m writing this as an inspiration to live and bloom where I am. Thank you, Mark for your guidance and to all who write here.

  20. …Do you have anything to say about human greed and wanting more rapaciously whether its status or in business ?


  21. Such a beautiful, important post, Mark.

    I love this line: “if you’re willing to trust your own life as an exploration through varying phases, interests and redirects, you’ll find that your later decades hold as much (if not more) capacity for depth, joy and enrichment as your younger years.”

    Also love the expansive perspective you bring to the story we each get to create and play out during our time here.

  22. I’ve enjoyed every decade of my life more and more and would never go back to wanting to be 20 again. I always remember my mother telling me her high school days were the best in her life and that mine would be too! How wrong she was. I think now she had a sad life. In a couple weeks I’ll be 60 and I’m loving every minute of it…even the tough times.

  23. My papa was an excellent snow skier. He put them up at 89 yrs. he loved those free lift tickets! He golfed his age for years. His period of debility was about one month. He told me he felt fine and was ready to go. Then at 96 he went to sleep and did not wake up. I have two points. The first is that I emulate his love of move,eat and rolling with what life brings me. Second, it maybe hard for a younger to realize that the elder can actually feel ok that it is time to go.
    **** our society does not have the different age groups interacting. When I do cross fit, I get to be moving with All ages.I love that. The youngers enjoy seeing a 57 yo female doing her thing. I don’t do rx, but I can modify to keep the same time caps or rounds. We can have fun together and show each other that aging is a real process that is gonna happen and you do not have to stop until for whatever reason you are done.

  24. Postmenopausal zest is something that human females can look forward to, after the turmoil of menopause. I am enjoying a surplus of energy, both mental and physical, in my early 60s, as did my own grandmothers. The Grandmother Hypothesis is that human females evolved to enjoy menopause and its aftermath so that they could more easily provision the grandchildren, who then survived at higher rates.

    I don’t find myself to be any less emotional, however. I censor my emotions less: I let people know how I feel, because I trust my feelings. See Martha Nussbaum’s Upheavals of Thought: the Intelligence of Emotions. Anger is usually a result of injustice. Speak truth to power.

  25. Well, I am obviously late to this conversation, but all I can say (at the age of post-menopausal almost 64) is THANK YOU, MARK, for bringing reality and dignity to aging. I cycle up hills because I can! Life is good at this age if we are blessed with health. I am. So once again, thank you, for writing such an uplifting and real description of the later years of life. Some cultures call this the “forest dweller” years. I love that.

  26. Came back to this post today to look for a reference regarding “aging offers its own novel benefits on the neurological front” but didn’t find any. Googled this idea and only saw news of cognitive decline and loss of the brain’s abilities as we age. I’d love info to the contrary. Any references or studies to this effect?