Must we be sad as we age?

An intriguing question came up in an online group today and I found there was much to be said. The question and my response follows:

What helps sustain faith and optimism in the world we are living in today. Do older Americans seem less happy than their global counterparts?

 I find this is not the case. It certainly may have been, but as the Baby Boomers now find ourselves in the second half of life, there isn’t the widespread doom and gloom that I do see among our parents who have been the second-half-of-life population for so long. This observation is borne out of actual observation of my neighbors and friends. 

Here in the Valley of the Sun (metro Phoenix) so much real estate has been devoted to, “age-controlled,” or, “active adult,” communities. In the past few years, many have had difficulty attracting new retirees for many reasons. First of all, people who are still actively employed or who are busy enjoying a full life with better health than their parents at the same age just aren’t interested in surrounding themselves with people who are so afraid of children or younger people that they lock themselves away from them. Secondly, when one is still able to easily access the wider world around them, a weekly bus trip to a casino just doesn’t appeal. Third, a generation whose socialization wasn’t built around cocktail hour doesn’t spend so much money on alcohol. This last point is borne out by the seasonal marketing in this area which sees store displays of alcohol moved up to the front door during, “Snowbird Season,” aka Fall and Winter. 

As far as this world in which we live today goes, we helped create it. Why are larger numbers of, “older Americans,” supportive of such social changes as marriage equality, and are surprisingly comfortable with the proliferation of technology? Simple demographics. A generation that questioned everything, stood for changes in the status quo, and rather consistently worked to create greater fairness and openness in society is now taking the place of the generation that was comfortable with the racial, sexual, and religious inequalities that made up that status quo. 

So, what is there to be unhappy about? Much, but it is also being addressed by young people and that is how it should be. Income, wealth, and political inequality has seen the birth of movements around the planet that may start with the young, but gain the support of elders (the recent, “line of mothers,” in Turkey, for example). 

The only constant in the universe is change. This particular generation of people in the, “second half of life,” has reached this time by embracing change instead of becoming afraid of it. However, those in the last quarter of life may well find contemporary life to be fear- and sadness-inducing. After all, the changes they feared that came with the 1960s and 70s have continued to expand. 

Optimism is a choice. This very concept was not one with which I was raised. However, moving through life showed me that each day is a gift to be savored and enjoyed. The plan was to, “live fast, die young, leave a beautiful corpse.” But, like so many of us in the, “second half,” I found sobriety and suddenly I wasn’t going to die young, at least not by anything drug- or alcohol-related. Eventually, optimism became a foundation, not an abstract idea. 

A strong and healthy spiritual path also became a foundation of life. Leaving behind the fear-based teachings of the church in which I was raised also helped me move toward a happier and positive outlook. 

Considering all this, what is there to be unhappy about?

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