Since the turn of the last century, improved nutrition and advances in medicine and healthcare have added 30 years to our average life expectancy. Without question, this is a remarkable achievement, but one that also requires each of us to think differently about "old age" and how we choose to live our lives.
For example, in Working Through Demographic Change, authors Elliott Jaques and William Zinke wrote, "People are living longer and in better health, and the meaning of adult life itself has changed: a whole new stage of mature adulthood has come onto the scene, and old age has been pushed back by many years."
Career development expert Helen Harkness, Ph.D., also believes that we should reject the view that increasing longevity extends old age. In her book, Don't Stop the Career Clock, she wrote, "If these extra years are handled wisely, our middle age will double dramatically into a new second midlife, while our ‘old' age shrinks." For that reason, she advises that we think about these extra years as a precious gift and "take an active hand in managing our windfall."
Similarly, Laura L. Carstensen writes, "People are happiest when they feel embedded in something larger than themselves and when they are needed." Therefore, she encourages everyone living in the second half of life to envision the steps-large and small-that they can take to ensure a bright future:
"Invest in yourself by learning something new. Design your world so that healthy habits come naturally. Diversify your social network by befriending a person from a different generation. Start a business that puts others to work. Think creatively about ways that an unprecedented number of mature, talented, healthy adults can address society's great challenges."1
As the founding director of the Stanford Center on Longevity and the author of A Long Bright Future, Carstensen has come to believe that the actions of today's generation of older people will set the course for decades.
Harkness also agrees that we are in a new age of learning how to live and work throughout our life spans. She writes: "By knowing what we want and doing what we love, we can continue life's journey with creativity, wisdom, power, and purpose."
1"The Resolution of a Lifetime" by Laura L. Carstensen, AARP Bulletin (Jan-Feb 2012).
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