It seems that aging well has become an extremely popular topic in recent weeks. I was invited to join a discussion on BBC Radio Tees about living to be 120 years old. According to one of the national newspapers in the UK, scientists had discovered a formula that could ensure Britons will soon be able to live up to the age of 120. It advocates a healthy diet and lifestyle and wonder drugs such as statins. To be honest, this is not fresh advice. Many of us have known for some time that a healthy lifestyle will lead to a longer life. My concern is: do we actually want to live that long and reach that age?
We live in a society that seems to regard older people with a wary eye. Old people are often treated as if they are less worthy than young people. Aging is still feared and we are still anxious about getting older.
It is odd that this should be the case. We often say "60 is the new 50 is the new 40." We behave and look younger than our grandparents. When I was a child, my grandparents were viewed as old at 60. They sat in armchairs in front of the fire. They rarely went out. My grandmother spent afternoons knitting with a large cat asleep on her lap. I recall her looking grey and wizened as she sat quietly, lost in her own world. I don't remember them having any vitality. On the other hand, my mother, who is now 80, travels regularly to Cyprus, where she has a vivacious life. She goes out most nights with friends my age and frequently goes to bed in the small hours. So why, in an era when people over 50 and older are taking up more adventurous activities, having a full and varied life, do we still fear old age?
I can't truly answer that. I guess it comes from our culture. We live in a society where old people are considered to have outlived their usefulness. Other cultures revere old age and treat their elderly members with respect. However, I have a solution to aging. One that will help you through the aches, pains and the difficulties. And it is this: Maintain a sense of humor.
Getting older will take its toll physically and mentally. Our bodies are getting older and no matter how much care we take of them, parts will wear out. We will lose friends and loved ones. Changes in society will exasperate and irritate us. The best weapon we have in our arsenal is humor. It will help us weather the physical and mental storms.
I have always had the ability to laugh at myself. It became necessary when a fight with a one-armed bandit machine left me without front teeth at the tender age of 10. Better to laugh at myself and joke about it than put up with rude comments and teasing. Eventually, it became natural to laugh at all sorts of things and make a joke of them. As I have become older, it seems I have been able to endure some of life's miseries by having a sense of humor. When my eyebrows decided to fall out and migrate to my upper lip, I talked about it and laughed with others. It enabled my friends to open up and laugh at their physical problems. That's what we need to do -- talk about our grievances and anxieties, but not in a negative way. Better to laugh at the fact you have become invisible to others and joke that you could walk through a department store, stark-naked wearing a lampshade on your head while playing a kazoo, than moan about it. More fun to giggle at the fact you put body lotion on your hair instead of conditioner because you couldn't read the label or sprayed a fly with hairspray and your hair with fly spray. Chuckle about forgetting where you parked the car and why you put the washing up liquid in the fridge.
It is not easier getting older, but a sense of humor will assist and if you work at it, you will be able to use your humor to see you through those darker days. Watching amusing DVDs, listening to comedy shows on the radio, going out to watch comedy shows or reading humorous books will all help. The Internet is awash with amusing video clips or funny photographs and forums or groups you can join. The more you 'hang out' with people who are amusing, the more you will laugh. It might be the case that life is not going to be as short as we expected, so learn to smile while you still have teeth.
Last week, I was a guest on the HuffPost Live. We discussed why you need a sense of humor as you age. One of the guests, Ruthe Gluckson, an "older" lady, is an inspiration for us all. She and my mother are examples of how we should approach old age and ignore what society tries to throw at us.
It is up to each and every one of us to try to age well. Before you yell at me through your computer screens, I am aware that this is not an easy task. However, we can all age better just by injecting some humor into our days.
Do I want to live to be 120? If I am still in reasonable health, can still get about, be independent and laugh at life with friends, then the answer is a resounding yes. I just hope that I will be able to laugh as well with a full set of shiny false teeth by then.