Becoming the Older Generation / Part 1: Who’s That In the Mirror?

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“You don’t stop laughing because you grow old. You grow old because you stop laughing.”

 ~ Michael Pritchard

Once our parents die, we’re the elders. It’s a sobering thought for mid-lifers who are energetic, enthusiastic, and don’t remotely feel as if they are approaching “old age”. Many reverse mortgage professionals, as well as the clients they serve, are or soon will be facing this gateway.

How to prepare for a life stage transition when you’re 25 inside is the rub. (Years ago, on his 75th birthday, my Dad exclaimed, “I look at the number and I can’t believe it. There’s a little boy in there!”)

Maybe aging really is all in the mind. An intriguing article in The New York Times Magazine describes how, in 1981, a Harvard psychologist took eight men in their 70s back to 1959. She didn’t have a time machine, so she created a time warp by bringing her volunteers to a house that had been retrofitted in every way to resemble 1959, from the books on the shelves to Ed Sullivan on the black-and-white TV.

Before arriving, the men were assessed on various biomarkers such as hearing, vision, memory and cognition, dexterity, grip strength and flexibility. The psychologist postulated that after a week’s immersion 22 years in the past, the men would improve in many of these metrics — and she was right.

After imagining themselves two decades younger in everything they said, thought and did during the experiment, when the subjects were retested they showed greater manual dexterity, more flexibility — and improved eyesight. Independent judges said the men looked younger. Best of all, echoing the ethos of the seniors in the movie Cocoon (produced four years after this experiment — which was not published), a spontaneous touch-football game erupted among the test subjects as they waited for the bus to take them home. While the Cocoon seniors supposedly gained their rejuvenative capacities via a life-force charged swimming pool, the Harvard experiment seems to suggest they might have achieved the same effect simply by believing they were young again.

Since most of us are going to live a lot longer than we think, it behooves us to make our later years as positive and energized as possible.

The residents of Ikaria, a remote Greek Island for whom the mythical Icarus is named, are among the longest-lived people on Earth. Yet there’s no great mystery to their longevity: they have strong community ties, eat a healthy Mediterranean diet, eschew processed foods, and are insulated from most modern conveniences. They also get plenty of exercise every day doing the kinds of chores most Americans wouldn’t dream of (such as milking goats). They take naps, and enjoy a relaxed, relatively stress-free lifestyle.

Short of moving to the Greek islands, we can emulate their vital aging secrets by refusing to complain and living each life stage with grace and joie de vivre.

What can reverse mortgage professionals do to support clients and prospects in fostering this kind of attitude, especially among those seniors who may need their spirits lifted? One longtime loan originator who sees his role as broader than just business says, “When a client perceives you as being open and honest, with their best interest at heart, it paves the way for acceptance of what you have to say and offer. It also opens doors to more friendships.”

Consider, too, that service serves the one reaching out as much as the one who is helped. To last month’s post about some very elderly people who are working at dream jobs, add this 99-year-old seamstress who sews dresses for impoverished African children, turning out a dress a day! Until the media discovered her she did this work anonymously, out of the simple desire to use her exceptional sewing skills to benefit the less fortunate. Is it a coincidence that she’s supple enough to sew a dress a day at age 99?

This live painting portrayal of a woman’s life demonstrates in four minutes how beautiful a person really is — at every age and life stage.