Hi. I’m Judy’s husband, Peter. Because I’m eight years older than she is, she invited me to tell you how things look to an eighty-something.
In your seventies, you’re part of what gerontologists call the “young old”. Some time in your eighties you graduate and become one of the “old old”. Of course it happens at different times for different people, but it’s starting to happen to me now. At eighty-two, I look like old man and I walk like an old man. But I don’t feel like an old man so it startles me when pregnant women offer me their seats on the bus.
I take pills like an old man (seventeen a day). And when I wake up in the morning, I can appreciate the old joke about how, if you wake up one morning and nothing hurts, you’re dead. Luckily I still hurt in the morning.
I think that I hurt less than I might because (thanks in part to Judy’s example) I stretch before breakfast and go to the gym during the day. I realize that aging is inevitable unless you avoid it by dying. But I’m convinced that exercise makes it less bad, not only by slowing it down, but by making you feel better while you’re doing it.
When I walk or bike, almost everyone else passes me. In the olden days, when we went on biking vacations, I was usually at the head of the pack. Now the pack has to wait for me. I used to run marathons. Now I can hardly run. I make lists to help me remember what I want to do but I forget where I put the lists. Almost everything I do takes longer and I don’t do it as well as I used to.
What surprises me is that that doesn’t make me unhappy. Recent research into happiness (Yes, there is such research.) suggests why.
Happiness seems to be a relative thing. Like perception. A flashlight that doesn’t look like much during the day can look quite bright at night. And happiness researcher Daniel Kahneman suggests a way to demonstrate that relativity. Fill three bowls with water, one lukewarm, one a bit cooler and the third a bit warmer. Put one hand in the cooler bowl and one in the warmer. Leave them there for a minute and then put them both into the lukewarm bowl. It will feel cold to the hand that was in the warm bowl and warm to the one that was in the cool bowl. Same bowl. Different perceptions.
Fortunately happiness seems to work pretty much the same way. Although doing things as slowly and badly as I do in my eighties would have depressed me in my forties, it doesn’t depress me today. I still enjoy learning new things, working on new projects, drinking martinis, eating chocolate, listening to Mozart, seeing my grandchildren and going to bed with Judy (although it reminds me of The New Yorker cartoon that shows a middle-aged couple in bed with the caption “WHERE THE WILD THINGS WERE”).
As Chekov put it: “Even in Siberia, there is happiness.”