As I’ve been saying for a long time, we focus way too much on the negative aspects of growing old. When we do, we miss the point—which is that the quality of life is really all that matters, no matter what our chronological age.
We spend our life aging, starting from birth. The older we get the more important health, adequate finances, relationships, community and spirituality can become. We must attend to these faithfully to age well. That said, attending to them does not and will not make us younger. We can eat right and exercise, dye our hair and remove our wrinkles, but we won’t lose years.
Quality of life is all about deciding the elements we want in our life and then pursuing them. That requires insights, frequent reality checks and shrewd decisions.
Take Lew, 68, a widower from Rochester. In this stage of life, he wanted good health, low-demand companionship, interesting travel and immersion in the worlds of food and music. Knowing these were the primary characteristics of a high quality of life for him, he used them as his “North Star” to guide every decision concerning:
- Where to live
- What kind of community to live in
- How near a major city he needed to be
- How exercise-friendly a climate to choose
- Which clubs to join
- How to budget for adventurous meals and theatre tickets
When last seen, Lew had moved to coastal South Carolina and was busily and happily pursuing his hobbies and interests, surrounded by like-minded people.
Then there’s Alex, also 68, who always knew he and his wife would retire in Ohio and move to Florida. They picked a town his wife really liked and built a house she designed and decorated. He takes care of the house and reads. Alex never questioned the plan, and didn’t think about imagining in detail what would happen after the move—he just went along with what he considered a fait accompli.
When last seen, Alex was struggling. He showed:
- An increased need to be right
- Significant bickering over details
- Loss of curiosity and interests
- Decreased social network size and diversity
- A new, short-fused temper
- Decreasing mobility from lack of exercise
- Treating his significant other more like a prisoner than a partner
What’s the difference between the two men? They’re both smart. They have the same financial resources. They both planned ahead. But the quality of their lives is much different.
It really boils down to attention to intentions. How do you intend to live this stage of your life? Play out every conceivable what-if scenario, because this kind of planning can make the difference between a rich life and a meager one.