I attended my first Age Boom Academy for journalists in 2008 and have returned several times since. This year was particularly rewarding, because now I’m able to put the speeches in context and because I’m honing in on a specific question: why are Americans, individually and collectively, so deaf to all but the negative messages about old age? After all, no one wants to die young, and no one disputes that the elimination of premature death is a remarkable achievement.
Imagine a bunch of 35 year olds and a bunch of 85 year olds. Which is happier? The 35-year-olds, right? That’s what each group answers. But ask each to assess its own well-being and the older people come out ahead. This fact surprises (even me! even though I’ve written about it a lot!) because we’re so deeply conditioned to envision life after youth as decline. Yet it turns out that “Although as people move towards old age they lose things they treasure—vitality, mental sharpness and looks—they also gain what people spend their lives pursuing: happiness.”