Getting Older Has Its Perks

Editor, Sharon Sultan Cutler,Interviews Dr.Michael Brickey, Author, Psychologist & Public Speaker Sharon Cutler: Dr. Brickey, most people regard aging as a process of gradual loss. Yet you believe life can get better and better as ...

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Editor, Sharon Sultan Cutler,Interviews Dr.Michael Brickey, Author, Psychologist & Public Speaker

Sharon Cutler: Dr. Brickey, most people regard aging as a process of gradual loss. Yet you believe life can get better and better as you age. How is that?

Dr. Michael Brickey: Research finds that 28% of Americans who are 18-27 years old report being very happy. The percentage of very happy Americans gradually rises as people age, peaking at 38% for ages 68-77. Even at ages 78-89, 34% of Americans said they are very happy--still much higher than the percentage for young adults. Why would older people be happier?

SC: I know for me, my twenties were a time when I felt pretty insecure and uncertain about who I was and what I wanted to do with my life. Now I feel clearer about who I am, what I want, and how to obtain it.

MB: And that is true for a lot of people. Youth is a time to experiment and try a lot of different things and make mistakes. As you get older, you learn from our mistakes and vicariously from the mistakes of others. The comfort and confidence in having a clearer concept of yourself and your purpose in life is very comforting.

SC: And the same goes for choosing friends.

MB: Exactly. For decades research reported that as people got older, they had fewer friends. This is true but more recent research finds that this is because older people focus their time on close friends and family and choose to drop their more causal acquaintances. Like a gardener, they nurture the flowers and weed out what doesn't fit in their garden. As with making mistakes, youth is a time to try out many kinds of friendships and find what is fulfilling. As you age, you know how to choose our friends wisely.

SC: Friendships also seem more comfortable as you age.

MB: Teenagers are obsessed with fitting in and being popular. They think they are rebellious and innovative but their culture is actually very conformist. One of the wonderful things about getting older is less peer pressure. When you get old enough to not have to work for a living, you no longer have to worry about pleasing a boss or coworkers. It's refreshing how many seniors tell it like it is. Often they say they don't have time for the BS.

SC: What about sex?

MB: Many seniors have quite fulfilling sex lives. Art Linkletter once had a contest for the oldest father. He had a child at 102--and had twins at 98. Many seniors report sex is better than ever. They don't have to worry about pregnancy, whether the kids will hear them, and (if monogamous and disease free) they don't have to use birth control. When retired, they have more time for leisurely sex. A tragic price of political correctness is that people are afraid to hug or put their arm around them. After sixty, people relax and enjoy the hugs.

SC: What about losing our mental acuity as you age.

MB: Let me make an analogy with computers. As you age your hard drive acquires a wealth of data and programs. As you age your processing speed (MHz) gets a little slower, and with more data it may take longer to retrieve information. Your programs, however, let you do complex tasks efficiently. Thus a 60 year old experienced bridge player can run circles around a 20 year old who has just been playing for a year. Would you like to have the faster processing speed? Sure. Would you really want to trade it for the impoverished data banks and paltry programs teenagers have?

SC: Not me. What about losing our memory?

MB: One of my pet peeves is "senior moments." What bunk. People of all ages have difficulty remembering or concentrating when they are stressed, tired, sleep deprived, ill, or taking certain medications. As with our computer analogy, it may take longer to find the information. At 60 you know a lot more people named Smith than you did at 20. When you get gray hair, many people attribute not remembering something to a senior moment, assume they can't remember, and don't even try. What I encourage people to do is to trust their unconscious mind to keep looking by saying to themselves, "It will come to me." It's amazing how often five minutes later--pop! There it is.

SC: I bet one of the perks is becoming wiser as you age.

MB: Can you imagine someone who is wise and has never made a mistake? Wisdom comes from learning from our mistakes. It also comes from observing and learning from the mistakes of others. Living longer is no guarantee you will be wise, but it is a prerequisite. If you are a lifelong learner, you develop wisdom. As you age you see cycles of birth, marriage, children and death, of hard times and easy times, of war and peace. You become more aware of patterns and cycles. A great sense of satisfaction goes with this glimpse into God's secrets and the secrets of the universe.

SC: Are there other perks?

MB: Many more. One is that as you age, you learn to manage your emotions better. You become more skilled at dealing with problems. You learn to let little things go. In marital or long-term relationships, you have learned what to fight and what to accept. In short, you choose your fights better and have a larger, more tested repertoire for dealing with problems.

SC: You have a marvelous test that Oprah used with her audience to assess whether they had what it takes mentally to age well.

MB: Right, Our Attitudes Belief, and Coping Skills, "our Anti-Aging ABCs" are critical to how well we age. The test is in my first book, Defy Aging and at

SC: I also love your new book 52 baby steps to Grow Young.

MB: Thank you. Defy Aging explained the research, theory, and how to for living longer, healthier, and happier. But most people don't read books. So in 52 baby steps to Grow Young, I boiled it down to two pages a week of small, practical things people can do to have a youthful outlook at every age. Cumulatively, the baby steps make a big difference.

SC: You make me feel better birthday is coming up shortly...and I expect a lot of perks!

See more articles by Psychologist Dr. Michael Brickey at http://