Do you want to grow old? Most people answer yes. A qualified yes, that is: “As long as I’ve got my health.” Long life looks attractive when it’s uncoupled from cognitive and physical decline. It’s a lot cheaper too: illness is expensive.
Last month the Atlantic magazine’s cover story described living past 75 as pretty darn inadvisable. Now, in quite the about-face, the December cover story champions the Happiness U-Curve (or “U-shaped Happiness Curve," as I’ve been calling it, or “U-bend” in Britspeak): : the growing body of research showing, in writer Jonathan Rausch’s words, that “we reliably grow happier, regardless of circumstances, after our 40s.”
Caption: An analysis by the Brookings scholars Carol Graham and Milena Nikolova, drawing on Gallup polls, shows a clear relationship between age and well-being in the United States. Respondents rated their life satisfaction relative to the “best possible life” for them, with 0 being worst and 10 being best.
A recent wedding announcement in the New York Times recorded the happy pairing of a couple that met through “America’s Test Kitchen.” He founded the TV show and hired her ten years ago. He’s 62; she’s 37. The announcement ended with this paragraph: “Both say they have never really given much thought to the difference in their ages. ‘Others may have concerns, but we don’t,’ he said.
Most animals, from shrimp to shrews, decline swiftly after reaching sexual maturity. Humans, on the other hand, experience middle age: a several-decade plateau during which most biological systems deteriorate very little. This stage of life, argues writer and zoologist David Bainbridge in this excerpt from Middle Age: A Natural History, represents a remarkable evolutionary achievement that should gratify, not depress.
By way of swag, everyone attending last week’s five-day Columbia Journalism School Age Boom Academy on “Covering the myths and realities of aging in America” received a canvas tote packed with print hand-outs. I was struck by a juxtaposition between two that I read the first night.
"There is no brick wall." So speaketh the noted demographer and biogerontologist Jay Olshansky, referring to the fact that humans have no “death genes”, nor “aging genes” that regulate the process of making you old. He was speaking at the 2009 Age Boom Academy at the International Longevity Center, tp which director Bob Butler was kind enough to welcome me back as an alumna. Some other compelling facts from Olshansky’s talk, which was titled “The Demographic Perspective on Longevity”:
Last night I went to hear Dr. Rudi Westendorp, the head of gerontology at the Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands, speak at Mount Sinai about good health after 85. A slight and smiling man in a red bowtie, Westendorp was introduced by International Longevity Center director Robert Butler and opened with a zinger: “There is no biological limit to human age. Mortality is plastic, as the biologists say.”