When starting to write this, comedian Catherine Tate’s teenage girl character, Lauren Cooper and her “Am I bovvered?” catchphrase came into my mind. Contemplating the things that get better with age, my overriding sense is that they all come under the umbrella of not really giving a damn about so many of the things that 20 years earlier would have caused sleepless nights, a knotted stomach and rising blood pressure. Now I’m more inclined to have a ‘Whatever’ response, just like the teenagers who frequently use that word.
Perhaps we return to a kind of childhood carefreeness with a dollop of teenage rebellion as we age. But, and this is the important part, we now have the experience to temper it and manage the worst impulses of earlier years.
For example, we’re better at decision-making. We understand the value of the long-term view and can weigh up the consequences of any action in advance. Apparently this is because we are using our pre-frontal cortices to a greater extent, the area of the brain that promotes rational thought.
We’re also more body confident than in our youth. Surveys by fashion houses suggest that people over 65 have better things to worry about than being ‘bikini body ready’ for the summer. Admittedly, when you live in southern Spain where most of the population spend at least half the year in bikinis like I do, it does make you more aware of the southward drift of body parts. However, I personally don’t feel any inclination to have a butt lift or one of the bikini body packages offered by the many aesthetic surgeons near me. I will admit that it was more of a struggle to come to terms with body image in my fifties, but I now accept that there is no going back and I don’t give a hoot either.
According to a University of Michigan study our generation has a great deal more empathy for others than the youth of today. The research showed that today’s students are 40 percent less empathic than students of thirty years ago. One of the statements they tested on the current students was, “I sometimes try to understand my friends better by imagining how things look from their perspective.” According to the results, they are much less likely to agree with this statement than we are. They do say that the teens and twenties of today are the ‘Me’ generation, which makes their attitude understandable. Still, it’s good to know that we’re the kinder, more thoughtful generation in some respects. It also means that we really do have something to teach youngsters, even if they do think they know it all.
And, because we have developed a mature view of life we are less likely to suffer with stress and anxiety, says the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. People in their 20s and 30s have the highest levels of depression, anxiety and stress, whilst those in their 90s were clearly the most content. I’ll probably feel quite happy too if I managed to get to my 90s. I’d probably decide that there couldn’t possibly be anything to worry about then, especially if I was relatively healthy and able to get out and about with ease.
So, yeah, there are lots of pluses to being older, not least of them being the ability to weather the storms because we know they will pass. It’s the age of ‘Whatever!’, but we mean it in a totally grown-up way.