What we’re reading

As we explore all aspects of our lives in this eighth decade, we’re eagerly reading some of the many books and articles that are starting to proliferate on this topic, especially as as the mass of boomers marches forth.

We’d like to begin to describe some of that literature here, on our blog, and to engage you blogsters in conversations about it. We’d also love to hear what you’re reading on the subject, and what your thoughts and reactions are to those narratives.

Jane and Ellen

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9 Responses to What we’re reading

  1. Blog Mavens says:

    We’ll begin with
    A Long Bright Future: Happiness, health and financial security in an age of increased longevity, by Laura L. Carstensen, Ph.D. Published in paperback in 2011 by Public Affairs, New York.

    Laura Carstensen is a psychologist and the founding director of the Stanford Center on Longevity. For more than twenty years, this interdisciplinary venture has researched all aspects of our increased life-span. Dr. Carstensen has described this research and its implications, well, in a very readable book.

    She points out that we gained thirty years, of average life span, in the last century, and suggests that the old social model of a life-span schedule no longer fit this new reality. It does not make sense, to maintain the pattern of education, marriage, parenting, and work life, and then assign those thirty years to “retirement.”

    Carstensen paints a picture of educational options extending throughout life, and the arc of a career rising once children are older. Those at the end of formal work life would be encouraged to return, at a comfortable pace, to contribute their accumulated wisdom, at work sites, in the community, and beyond, and to mentor others.

    Some of this is already happening, of course, but we still know those who are still trying to live by the old clock…finish school, marry and begin work, and then try to achieve everything at once: raise children and succeed in competitive careers. But now, there is more time available for stretching out each stage, and to insert intermittent pauses….new coursework, volunteerism, creative ventures.

    Carstensen has a vision for older people, whom she sees as rich resource for society. We are a diverse group, a healthier lot now than in previous eras, better at coping with stressful situations than younger people, and more likely to focus on the positive when making decisions. With intergenerational support and involvement of the larger community, she urges us to contribute our wisdom, to better society, and to maintain our lives, “physically fit, mentally sharp, financially secure.”

  2. Blog Mavens says:

    Simone De Beauvoir-The Coming of Age, Translated by Patrick O’Brian,
    G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York. 1972

    Simone deBeauvoir’s The Second Sex, inspired us in the early days of the feminist movement. In her later years, she decried the treatment of old people in society, and offered her ideas about how to remedy the appalling situation.

    In her book, The Coming of Age, deBeauvoir criticized the treatment of old people in France in the mid-twentieth century. She blamed the societal attitudes and the government’s poor social services for ill treatment of seniors who were removed from society and placed in poorly run and unsightly institutions where they languished, without stimulation or attention. She felt that the dignity of these people was destroyed, and their lives shortened by poverty, ill-health and a rapid decline in such settings. She saw society treat old age as a shameful subject, a secret to be hidden away. Most of her attention was focused on men.

    In this detailed and extensive tome, deBeauvoir searched internationally and historically, tracing attitudes toward old age back to ancient times. Written records of ancient poets and philosophers revealed the gloomy attitude of these men, lamenting their old age, with its loss of virility, and loss of standing in the community. In Egypt, in 2500 B.C., the philosopher and poet Ptah-hotep wrote, “Old age is the worst of misfortunes that can afflict a man” (p.92).

    However, in ancient China, old age was venerated. “In Chinese neo-Taoism “man’s supreme aim is the quest for the ‘long life’.” Holiness was the art of not dying” (p.92). The Jews of ancient times deemed age to be a sign of virtue, engendering great respect. The elders were considered the chosen of God and his representative among the people.(p.93).

    But de Beauvoir believed that in her day, “the vast majority of mankind looks upon the coming of old age with sorrow or rebellion”(p.539). Her socialist manifesto cries out against the disparities between the working class man and the wealthy, for after a life of hard work, no health protection and low wages, she saw the poor weakened and dying young, while many of the rich survive to old age.

    She felt strongly “if old age is not to be an absurd parody of our former life”…..we must “go on pursuing ends that give our existence meaning – devotion to individuals, to groups, or to causes, social, political, intellectual or creative work”(p.540).

  3. Blog Mavens says:

    The Fountain of Age, by Betty Friedan, published in 1993, by Simon ad Schuster.

    In The Fountain of Age, published in 1993, Betty Friedan explores the frontier of age from her view as a woman in her 60’s. The woman who started the feminist movement in the 1960’s, writing The feminine mystique, chronicles the lives of liberated, accomplished women, thirty years later as they find new energy through the aging process.

    She is appalled at TV depictions of powerless, dependent, lonely, unattractive and mentally incompetent old people. In the mid –twentieth century, age was treated as a sickness, and old people were sent to nursing homes, where, she felt, they were dehumanized.

    Ever in the vanguard of social and political thought, the author of The feminine mystique, examines all aspects of aging, highlighting the ways people continue to grow and live with vitality. She discusses through countless personal interviews and discussions that there is indeed, much more to longevity than the medical deteriorations so focused on by gerontologists at that time.

    Friedan is most impressed by those who shed the angst of their competitive, professional careers and free themselves, to do things they always wanted to do, but never had the time to pursue. Her own adventure on a challenging Upward Bound trip called “Going Beyond,” epitomizes the range of possibilities she considers, and sets an example, especially for women.

    Just as The feminine mystique led the way for the empowerment of women in our society, so The fountain of age opened the discussion about the strengths and value of older people and society’s responsibilities to new aging generations.

    She tracks both men and women across the country, and advocates for a positive view of later years when people can use their accumulated experiences and skills for new purposes. Those she interviews describe ways they’ve discovered to reinvent themselves, to create new challenges and adventure. She notes how they respond to others, with a new, more honest and genuine voice.

    “Free from the old rigid boundaries that once defined work, the fountain of age opens possibilities of change and life that need have no limits” (p. 250).

    “…in going beyond youth, we each might finally be able to celebrate who we really are” (p. 324).

    She sees wisdom, compassion, sensitivity and flexibility as “unique strengths that can emerge in age…if we don’t measure ourselves against the standards of youth.” She offers views on “retirement’ and possible living arrangements. She describes how communities need to nourish and support their valuable resource …their older citizens.

  4. Blog Mavens says:

    Karl Pillemer, Ph.D. authored the book, 30 Lessons for Living: Tried and true advice from the wisest Americans. It was published by Hudson Street Press in 2011.

    Following, is his list of the “top ten.” See if these are the lessons you would like to pass on…are there any others?

    TEN THINGS OLDER PEOPLE WOULD LIKE YOUNGER PEOPLE TO KNOW

    In contemporary society, we don’t often ask our elders for advice. We’re much more likely to talk to professionals, read books by pop psychologists or motivational speakers, or troll the internet for solutions to our problems. In general (and for the first time in human history), we no longer look to our society’s oldest members as a key source of wisdom for how to live happier, healthier, and more fulfilling lives.

    As a gerontologist, I have come to believe that this attitude is a serious mistake. Older individuals (especially persons age 70 and beyond), are in fact the most credible experts we have available for knowledge about how to live well through hard times. They have been through unique historical experiences – such as the Great Depression and World War II – that have taught them how to thrive in the face of adversity. And they have personally experienced many of the tragedies younger people dread, giving them the ability to advise the rest of us about resilience in the face of illness and loss.

    Over the past 6 years, I’ve conducted a research project designed to tap the practical wisdom of older Americans. Using several different social science methods, I’ve collected responses from over 1200 elders to the question: “Over the course of your life, what are the most important lessons you would like to pass on to younger people.” I then combed through the responses, and the result was a set of lessons for living from the people I have called “the wisest Americans.”

    As I look back over years of talking with America’s elders, 10 lessons stand out as those they would like to convey to young people. Read these “Top 10 Lessons for Living” and see how they apply to your own life.

    1. Choose a career for the intrinsic rewards, not the financial ones. Although many grew up in poverty, the elders believe that the biggest career mistake people make is selecting a profession based only on potential earnings. A sense of purpose and passion for one’s work beats a bigger paycheck any day.
    2. Act now like you will need your body for a hundred years: Stop using “I don’t care how long I live” as an excuse for bad health habits. Behaviors like smoking, poor eating habits and inactivity are less likely to kill you than to sentence you to years or decades of chronic disease. The elders have seen the devastation that a bad lifestyle causes in the last decades of life – act now to prevent it.
    3. Say “Yes” to opportunities: When offered a new opportunity or challenge, you are much less likely to regret saying yes and more likely to regret turning it down. They suggest you take a risk and a leap of faith when opportunity knocks.
    4. Choose a mate with extreme care: The key is not to rush the decision, taking all the time needed to get to know the prospective partner and to determine your compatibility with them. Said one respondent: “Don’t rush in without knowing each other deeply. That’s very dangerous, but people do it all the time.”
    5. Travel more: Travel while you can, sacrificing other things if necessary to do so. Most people look back on their travel adventures (big and small) as highlights of their lives and regret not having traveled more. As one elder told me, “If you have to make a decision whether you want to remodel your kitchen or take a trip—well, I say, choose the trip!”
    6. Say it now: People wind up saying the sad words “it might have been” by failing to express themselves before it’s too late. The only time you can share your deepest feelings is while people are still alive. According to an elder we spoke with: “If you have a grudge against someone, why not make it right, now? Make it right because there may not be another opportunity, who knows? So do what you can do now.
    7. Time is of the essence: Live as though life is short—because it is. The point is not to be depressed by this knowledge but to act on it, making sure to do important things now. The older the respondent, the more likely they were to say that life goes by astonishingly quickly. Said one elder: “I wish I’d learned that in my thirties instead of in my sixties!”
    8. Happiness is a choice, not a condition: Happiness isn’t a condition that occurs when circumstances are perfect or nearly so. Sooner or later you need to make a deliberate choice to be happy in spite of challenges and difficulties. One elder echoed almost all the others when she said: ““My single best piece of advice is to take responsibility for your own happiness throughout your life.”
    9. Time spent worrying is time wasted: Stop worrying. Or at least cut down. It’s a colossal waste of your precious lifetime. Indeed, one of the major regrets expressed by the elders was time wasted worrying about things that never happened.
    10. Think small: When it comes to making the most of your life, think small. Attune yourself to simple daily pleasures and learn to savor them now.
    As the holidays approach, that last lesson is a great one to think about. Because of their awareness that life is short, the elders have become attuned to the minute pleasures that younger people often are only aware of if they have been deprived of them: a morning cup of good coffee, a warm bed on a winter night, a brightly colored bird feeding on the lawn, an unexpected letter from a friend, even a favorite song on the radio (all pleasures mentioned in my interviews). Paying special attention to these “microlevel” events forms a fabric of happiness that lifts them up on a daily basis. They believe the same can be true for younger people as well – and it’s well worth a try at any age!

    • Blog Mavens says:

      30 Lessons for Loving: Advice from the Wisest Americans on Love, Relationships, and Marriage,
      by Karl Pillemer, Ph.D.

      Karl Pillemer, Ph.D., creator of the Cornell Legacy Project, has written a 2015 book, published by Hudson Street Press. This work is also based on extensive interviews of what he calls the “Wisest Americans.”  For 30 Lessons for Loving he asks for advice from 700 elders married for an average of 46 years. He shares lessons derived from this wide social, cultural and economic range of senior men and women with regard to finding a mate, communicating within a marriage, dealing with conflict, and keeping the spark alive. The final chapter, Thinking Like an Expert About Love and Marriage presents the overriding lessons he gleaned from the many narratives he collected on topics that include: Respect each other, Be a Team, Make Time, Lighten Up, Accept Your Partner as Is, and As Long as You Both Shall Live.

      The book is carefully researched, well written, good humored and easy to read. It is useful for people of any age contemplating a sustained and mutually satisfying relationship.

      We look forward to his next book which will offer advice on work life career transitions, retirement, and finding one’s purpose.

  5. Teri says:

    Agree with all except the last statement. I like to think big, live big , but appreciate the tiny ant and the hill he is making, the snowflake that fell on my eyelash, but go out for it all, take the challenges, get out of ones comfort zone a bit, see what lies around the corner, explore like a child, seeing things for the first time, be enthusiastic, love and live life to the fullest, give thanks for all.

  6. Blog Mavens says:

    We’ve come upon Getting Over Getting Older, Letty Cottin Pogrebin’s exploration of the mid-life transition into age 50. Pogrebin was unnerved by the prospect of her turn into that next decade until she gathered a group of her peers for a discussion at a birthday luncheon. From the assembled women she gained hope, optimism and a more positive outlook. Those women spoke of really finding themselves once their children were grown and they had freedom to make self-satisfying choices. She came away feeling gratitude for all she had, and looking forward to possibilities that lay ahead.

    This very personal, rather chatty book, published in 1996, covers many topics related to time and aging, including the author’s concerns about physical functioning, loss, fears, changes in relationships, perceptions and attitudes.

    It is an interesting look back, for a view of an era that offers similar challenges, but many contrasts to our lives in our 70’s.

  7. Blog Mavens says:

    Rabbi Dayle Friedman has written Jewish Wisdom for Growing Older: Finding Your Grit and Grace Beyond Midlife, published by Jewish Lights Publications (2015).

    Rabbi Friedman presents a sensitive and unflinchingly honest look at both the challenges and spiritual opportunities after midlife. She writes clearly and poetically about ways to find strength and resilience in times of despair and pain, offering paths to gratitude and blessings that one can access each day.

    This is a book worth reading for anyone thinking about what life might bring beyond middle age.

  8. Blog Mavens says:

    Mary Gergen and Kenneth J. Gergen have a new 146-page book, published by the Taos Institute (2017), called Paths to Positive Aging: Dog Days with a Bone and Other Essays. I had the honor of writing one of the back-cover blurbs, and here’s what I had to say:

    “True confession, I am biased. Mary and Kenneth Gergen have been my role-models and heroes since I first thought of myself as old (old–a beautiful word, my favorite in the English language) and read an issue of their Positive Aging Newsletter. Each brief essay in this lovely book is taken from the newsletter, and their choices are impeccable. From the first photograph of Mary and Ken, which will make readers laugh out loud with joy, to essays with titles such as ‘Shedding Ageism,’ ‘Aging as Art,’ ‘Zest and Zing,’ and ‘Positive Aging: Not All Smiley Faces,’ readers of all ages will find new meanings and ways of thinking about that beautiful word.

    What I did not mention in my blurb, and wish I had, is that each essay is illustrated with delightful, colorful, personal photographs. Another back-cover blurb states, “Mary and Ken Gergen offer means to grace your life with purpose and passion.” I enthusiastically concur.
    Ellen

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