Becoming an Older Person in America: How to Reset Your Age Thermometer
When I was 40, I took a trip by air and found an article in the airline magazine that piqued my curiosity. It was about setting your “age thermometer.” The author said most of us have an “age thermometer” in our brain, which reports to us and tends to set how we get older. On it, we set “youth,” “middle age,” and “old age,” for example. Wherever we have our “thermometer” set is what we come to believe and live. We all live what we believe.
At 40, I was most interested in the “middle age” category. My “middle age” was set at 40, based, of course, on the idea that our lifespan is about 80 years. Yet the author challenged that lifespans had been lengthening. What if you lived to 100, middle age isn’t until 50! If you want to live longer you would need to reset your “age thermometer” to the appropriate “middle” for the lifespan you want to live!
That day, I reset my “age thermometer” to 60.
Every time I thought of “aging,” I reminded myself that I was not yet middle aged, because from that point I had another 20 years before reaching that benchmark!
Amazingly, it worked quite well. Even today, when I’m two months from 78, I feel younger and my health is younger than my years. People who meet me traveling full-time in my RV in the US and Canada, remark that I look and act younger than my years, too!
On my podcast radio program, Full Power Living, several years ago I interviewed Dr. Becky Levy, a Yale professor who had done research on memory of the aged. She set up an experiment and tested people age 25, and those who were 65 and over, regarding how well they could recall a series of photographs flashed on a screen. Her working hypothesis was that cultures that revere age would be less likely to talk negatively about getting older, like repeating the talk about how people “lose their memory” as they get older. She tested this hypothesis in China and in the Deaf community (both of which revere the wisdom of age), and in the general population of Boston, Massachusetts. Her hypothesis was proven—in China there was no statistical difference between the memories of young and old, in the Deaf community only a couple points difference, while the Boston group showed a huge difference in the memory of younger and older people!
Knowing that what the mind hears repeated it takes as “truth” even if it isn’t true, this was not surprising to me. But it did lead me to decide to be careful about what I listen to, and what I allow others to say around me. My husband, Bob, for example, used to laughingly call us “Old Farts.” I asked him not to include me in that category, because I am not “old.” Fortunately, he complied.
Bob died in early 2016 when I was 73, leaving me to contemplate what I planned to do with the rest of my life and how I want to grow older.
For reasons I can’t explain, I thought of a baseball game, in which I was standing on third base, heading for home. I needed to make a decision about just how I wanted to cross home plate—sliding on my face, or standing up? I decided to go in standing up. That’s when I closed down my brick and mortar business, sold our home, and bought my RV. By age 74 I was on the road. By now I’ve visited 31 US states and four Canadian provinces. I’ve seen a lot of beauty, met and befriended people of all types, and enjoyed myself.
My “age thermometer” has been slipping its setting upwards. I’m now thinking that 70 is middle age!
In the past year, I’ve published Emotions in Motion: Mastering Life’s Built-in Navigation System (more information can be found on www.emotionalmasteryforlife.com) and written Ending Manipulation. I’ve taken a marketing course, am now enrolled in a self-publishing course. I continue to work with clients (virtually—I’ve been a marriage counselor for half a century), appear almost weekly on podcasts or summits, am now co-hosting an internet podcast (Ask the Experts), am being published in the first collaborative Self-Care book being produced by The Wellness Universe, writing blogs (!) and starting writing my third book, Turning Anger into Enthusiasm. During Covid-19 quarantining, I’ve stayed a while at my son’s home, where I’ve been in charge of planting and tending the family vegetable garden.
I’m standing up!
How we go through life, live in our relationships, deal with challenges, and age is up to us. As I write in The Wellness Universe’s Self Care volume, all of life is lived from the inside, out. Set your own internal “thermometer” for emotional, mental, and physical health and joy!
I’ve discovered that America is not always friendly to aging. While many of us are living longer, and healthier, than ever before, I’ve noticed a few challenges.
- We live by “age group.” Generations are not comingled much, leaving less understanding of, and experience with, people as they age.
- As people get older, the power, wisdom, ability, and strength they worked hard to cultivate gets “lost.” Too many times I’ve heard younger people address their elders as “cute,” even men.
- We are a youth and technology-oriented society. Older people are assumed—even today—to not understand or know how to work with technology. I’ve even received professional instruction on how to not brush up and down with my electric toothbrush! Elder’s opinions are usually not as desired as those of contemporaries.
Such things notwithstanding, how we age, how our memory and health perform, and how well we “stay in the game” depends on us! Take care of what you affirm about yourself, what you listen to, and how you value your own wisdom, and you can live as long and as well as you choose!
Ilene Dillon is a featured author in The Wellness Universe Guide to Complete Self-Care, 25 Tools for Stress Relief. Learn more about this book by joining our Book Club.
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