19 thoughts on “Paradoxes of Aging, Health and Happiness

  1. JeanR says:

    I did think you’d abandon your blog but I thought it was your garden keeping you too busy.

    I love your commitment to continued learning and sharing what you learn. The feedback you got from the lecture must make you feel good.

    • Jean says:

      Jean, I used to jokingly tell students that I had become a college professor because I was better at going to school than at anything else, so I just found a way to stay in school forever! It turns out to be more true than I realized. In retirement, I keep finding new ways of teaching and of learning — and I continue to get a charge out of both.

  2. Charlie Emmons says:

    I testify that your presentations were excellent, and that this blog is too. I have been sharing excerpts from them with friends (like at lunch today with my 80-year-old friend). Thank you.

    • Jean says:

      Thanks for the testimonial, Charlie. The whole experience was nothing but enjoyable. As I enthused about my trip to Maine friends this week, one of them quipped that you didn’t need to pay me; I had such a good time that the honorarium seemed superfluous.

  3. Mary says:

    Wow all kind of thoughts after reading your excellent blog. I’m 70, childless and a 4 yr. widow. All of these themes should have and would have applied to me if I didn’t have to experience the grief of losing my husband. It has colored these otherwise fine themes. I do have freedom, as I’m comfortably retired and so far I’m in good health. I do have wisdom that grows as one matures. But acceptance of a life’s turn I didn’t expect has been hard, however I do readily accept death with no fear other than the process of dying (pain, having to be in a nursing home, no family etc.). And rather than feeling “alive”, I feel I’m just biding my time even though I do have friends and a home I enjoy. But there’s an emptiness. Loss, poor health and financial problems I feel could alter this U curve for some. But for most, I think you’re absolutely correct.

    • Jean says:

      Mary, You are absolutely correct that happiness is influenced by loss, poor health and financial problems. The data I presented show the likelihood that those in a certain age group will describe themselves as very happy, but even in the decade when this peaks (the seventies), only about one-third describe themselves as “very happy.” Most of the rest describe themselves as “pretty happy,” and a significant minority (about 15% across age groups) describe themselves as “not too happy.” I think it’s also true that not everyone follows the same u-shaped trajectory. There is some evidence, for example, that never-married women may experience a happiness dip in the thirties (as most of their friends marry and they begin to consider the possibility that they may not) and a happiness rebound in the forties (as they resolve their feelings about being unmarried).
      I don’t know if you would find this helpful, but one method that may help you to feel more fully alive is to focus on small sensory pleasures. This is a bit like the “gratitude journals,” but with a focus on recording at least three moments a day of sensory pleasure (e.g., the taste of a favorite food, the feel of sunlight on skin, the scent of roses or lavender, the sight of blue sky or flowers blooming or the ocean, the sound of bird song or music).

  4. Honey Bee says:

    My sixties have been my happiest yet, to my great astonishment, in spite of the loss of my husband through pancreatic cancer, the death of my mother, the advent of stage three cancer, congestive heart failure, financial challenges, and loss of friends.

    Paradoxical, for sure. But I have been having the time of my life, celebrating each small victory (the end of each chemo treatment), freedom to travel, adventures of beginning new things, and many fresh discoveries in the area of personal growth.

    I have a wonderful team of health care professionals who have seen me through cancer and congestive heart failure, and atrial fibrillation and sleep apnea.

    Now I have my life back, richer than ever.

    New friends, new pleasures, new authors, new occupations that include learning and cooking and serving as a volunteer, new church, new concert series subscriptions, new computer and its accompanying technical support team, monthly massages, new summer holiday venue in lovely Muskoka in northern Ontario.

    In June I travelled to Prague, Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg, and Munich. I have plans to travel at Christmas and next June.

    I am delighting in the fresh adventures of daily living. This summer I enjoyed as much “patio time” as possible, not on my own patio, I live in a building, but at Starbucks or other restaurants.

    I attend documentaries and lecture series. I attend opera and plays and high tea and musicals. Each week I go line dancing. Life is rich and full. I had no idea what retirement would be like. But, I must say, I quite like it.

    Happy Autumn,
    Honey Bee

    • Jean says:

      Honey Bee, I feel as though you are a kindred spirit. When I had cancer at age 50, the oncologist’s office where I had chemotherapy treatments had a practice of tying balloons to the IV pole of anyone having their last treatment. Since, in any given week, there was usually someone with balloons, it gave the place a festive party atmosphere that made it hard to feel sorry for yourself.

  5. Kenneth F. Mott says:

    Jean: Sorry I missed you–didn’t hear about the talk. I retired this year after 51 years at Gettysburg and my family keeps me busy–so far, so good. Your article provides much fascinating info. Good to know. All best, Ken

    • Jean says:

      Ken, I hope that you are enjoy your retirement as much as I am enjoying mine. I am loving the freedom to pursue so many interests that I didn’t have time for during my working years.

  6. Diana Studer says:

    I like your closing paragraph – all ages in your audience were happy – well done!

  7. Brenda says:

    Honey Bee said it all. I cannot improve on her comments. And it’s nice to know that Muskoka is still lovely. I have a vivid image of it in my mind since reading The Blue Castle as a girl and would love to visit someday.

  8. GARY says:

    It seems to me Europeans treat older people with more relevance. Here in the USA as I age I feel that the world (target demographics, politics, technology) has little time to think of us. Personally I’m OK with that being generally self motivated and a bit of a loner, but it can be devastating to someone who needs a sense of worth from some outside source. It can be a rough time unfortunately when it could be the best time of your life.

    • Jean says:

      Gary, A Mexican woman in the audience (the wife of a colleague) felt that Mexican culture also respects and honors the elderly in a way that is not true in the United States.

  9. maureen says:

    Hi Jean,
    Just read about your talk and think I will share your blog post about it with some friends who I work with to support Age-friendliness in RI. Good to hear about us older adults generally feeling happy about life. So many of the real stressful times may be behind us (child rearing, career choices, etc) that life does seem more peaceful most of the time with time to appreciate the small joys.

  10. […] happiness to deliver as a public lecture at Gettysburg College, where I taught for many years(see Paradoxes of Aging, Health and Happiness). Last spring, I repeated the presentation for a class in Sociology of Aging taught by a former […]

  11. […] am aware of the research findings that attitudes about aging are a self-fulfilling prophecy (see Paradoxes of Aging, Health, and Happiness); even after researchers control for factors like underlying health conditions, those with positive […]

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I am Jean Potuchek, a professional sociologist who has just stepped into the next phase of my life, retirement, after more than thirty years of college teaching. This blog is about my experience of that new phase of life.

Please join me as I step into my future.

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