Hope and happiness are in short supply in these stressful times. But there is more inspiration to draw from than meets the eye. This is a period in history, clearly, that calls on the energy and imagination of all generations. We all need to be listening to and interacting with each other in order to improve equality and fairness for all of us. We need to work together to solve the problems facing each generation, because the challenges are adding up and have an impact on all of society.
The bottom line is that we may be seniors, but we are far from passive. And as seniors, we not only have the benefit of hindsight and experience, but there is so much to participate in and so many new ways to participate. We may be staying home more than before, but we can still be involved in the causes that we believe in — improving child and family well-being, making this country more equitable, and pushing for systemic changes in health care, social justice and the health of the planet. And there’s one more job we’re tasked with as the “older generation,” and that’s enabling younger people to see and understand the specific advantages and challenges of aging, not just for their parents and grandparents, but, if they are fortunate, for themselves.
The nature of happiness today for seniors depends on being active and involved — and taking heart in what’s happening in the world where we can. How? Try these four ways:
Look at the bookend generations for inspiration.
One of the most inspiring things I see these days is what’s happening around today’s protests. They reflect a growing communication and understanding across gender, racial, and generational lines — and involve the youngest as well as the oldest generations. I have great faith in the power of these bookend generations. The young are not only accepting of each other’s differences, they embrace them. We seniors are evolving, learning to reject the biases we were taught. When you bring these generations together, it’s a profound combination with countless opportunities for learning. Seniors benefit from younger perspectives, and younger generations benefit from the experience of seniors — whether by finding positive directions or seeing how wrong things have gone. We learn so much from acknowledging each other’s experience.
Celebrate your growing wisdom.
I’m often asked whether in this society, being an elder has more positives than negatives. In my mind, the answer is a resounding yes. I think we gain so much over the years. We may not all be as physically capable as we once were, but think of it this way: as our ability to read all the letters on the optometrist’s vision chart gets worse, our inner vision gets better. We gain more insight and we develop more of a sense of clarity instead. We’re able to see ourselves and envision the big pictures in society more clearly. Our eyes may not improve, but our ability to truly see the world does.
Revitalize by becoming more active and connected.
Getting active and increasing your connection with the world can give seniors a new sense of vitality and purpose. As we hit our 60s, 70s, 80s, and beyond, we can tap into our own experience and realize we have so much to contribute. And becoming involved is a wonderful reminder that we don’t stop growing when we’re young: we continue to grow and learn well beyond our youth and middle age. If you’re looking for ways to engage, start by just listening. Read. Google. Follow your curiosity where it leads.
Branch out to meet new people (even virtually).
It’s a myth (and a sad one) that we get more conservative as we get older, lose interest in the outside world, and are less inclined to want to meet others. Actually, most of the men and women I meet who have reached seniority are engaged and active citizens and love meeting new people. They’re not only concerned about the world, they find that being involved in causes and activities beyond themselves, and meeting and working with new people, takes their minds off any age-related physical challenges and overcomes a sense of isolation. Intergenerational friendships bring a sense of mutual respect and can remind us that we bring a lot to the table.
Getting involved and reaching out to form new friendships right now takes a new kind of time, effort and intention. For many of us, we are learning how to cultivate rich and active lives online and on social media. But it’s well worth the effort, as is opening up to the experience of other generations. Staying closed-off is a losing proposition. But cultivating a sense of curiosity and gratitude can help change not only our own lives, but the world. There are so many ways to keep from becoming invisible as we grow older — including living in the current world, not outside it, or in the past. Of course, brighter lipstick can help too (hint: that’s a great Zoom trick). But be open, reach out, and look forward to a time of more peace, more justice, and more life.
Dr. Thelma Reese is the author of The New Senior Woman and The New Senior Man and creator of the blog, www.ElderChicks.com. She’s a retired professor of English and Education, the former spokesperson for Hooked on Phonics, and has long been active in national and Philadelphia-based educational and cultural initiatives. She is the author, with BJ Kittredge, of the new book, How Seniors Are Saving the World: Retirement Activism to the Rescue!