“When Did we Get So Old?” That’s the headline of a recent New York Times article by Michele Willens that examines the aging angst of the baby boom generation.
In their weekly conversation, WHYY’s behavioral health reporter Maiken Scott and psychologist Dan Gottlieb discussed the sentiment of feeling old and in the way.
Maiken Scott: Dan – every generation gets old, if they are lucky. Seems like the boomers are struggling with this idea quite a bit?
Dr. Dan Gottlieb: Yes, we are! And after all, the world changed around us, we were children of Sputnik, of hiding under desks. We were the ones who got us out of Vietnam. We started the civil rights movement, the women’s movement. We changed the world. It’s hard for us to grow old and live in a culture where we are seen as less relevant.
MS: The NYT article describes a kind of sinking, angsty feeling when suddenly, everybody around the meeting table is younger than you. What’s that about?
DG: I have had this experience. I was always the youngest, the firecracker, the one with a future. I was young and bright, and now I’m pretty much neither. But, I like it! I like being seen as the elder. I don’t have to pretend anymore, I don’t have to do things I don’t know how to do. My memory is awful, but I have a wider perspective. I’m less reactive, I have lots of experiences and resources. That’s part of being the elder. If I can be comfortable bringing what I do have, and being who I am, then it’s a nice experience.
MS: What’s your advice for boomers who are struggling with the idea of getting older, and feeling less relevant?
DG: One of the reasons we fight against growing old is because of the death problem. It is a problem, we don’t want to die, and we want to avoid that. But we don’t think about the question of why don’t we want to die? We don’t want to die because we love this life! So, connect with the love for this life, and why you love it. Enjoy it, cherish it, share the gifts you have. Yeah, you’re going to have arthritis, and perhaps a sagging feeling when you look in the mirror, but you love this life, so love it better