The Hidden Benefits of Growing Older: The Wisdom of TED

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Photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash

There’s a certain ritual in celebrating the arrival of a new year: counting down the seconds until midnight, drinking a glass of champagne, hanging a fresh calendar on the wall. And while the simple fact of being able to greet another year should be cause for celebration, adults – once they have reached the age of majority – seem to forget the excitement associated with getting older. Hopefully, these selected TED Talks* will make you feel good about getting older.

Three threads run throughout TED discussions on the subject. First, there is the strong belief that each of us should take control of our life, and not allow society to dictate it for us. “We’ve divided our adult life up into two sections,” says Dan Buettner, explorer and National Geographic journalist. “There is our work life, where we’re productive. And then one day, boom, we retire.” Everyone knows a story of someone who faded into decrepitude upon retirement, but TED speakers see that folk tale as an outmoded stereotype of aging.

Nigel Marsh advises striking a work–life balance, which gains greater resonance as we age: “It’s up to us as individuals to take control and responsibility for the type of lives that we want to lead. If you don’t design your life, someone else will design it for you, and you may just not like their idea of balance.” There are many suggested answers, but TED speakers, including actor Jane Fonda and author Isabel Allende, agree that it begins with self-empowerment and confidence.

As we age our perspective on life changes in remarkably positive ways, and this idea comprises the second thread. Psychologist Laura Carstensen observes, “When we recognize that we don’t have all the time in the world, we see our priorities most clearly. We take less notice of trivial matters. We savour life. We’re more appreciative, more open to reconciliation. We invest in more emotionally important parts of life, and life gets better, so we’re happier day to day.”

Carstensen’s point plays well into the third thread and aligns with TED’s stated mission to “change attitudes, lives and, ultimately, the world.” As we age our experience and enhanced perspective allow us to embody this potential, and our ability to shape and influence society grows. Instead of becoming a burden to those around us, we are, in fact, becoming an asset.

For Nigel Marsh, we all have the potential to “change society’s definition of success away from the moronically simplistic notion that the person with the most money when he dies wins, to a more thoughtful and balanced definition of what a life well lived looks like.” Not only can aging be positive, but it can also have a positive and lasting impact on those around us. As Laura Carstensen’s 92-year-old father says: “Let’s stop talking only about how to save the old folks and start talking about how to get them to save us all.”

 

* TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Talks have been informing and inspiring audiences for over 30 years, with insightful commentary from some of the sharpest minds in society. These talks – each of them 18 minutes or less – cover a broad range of topics, including aging, redefining how we look at growing older and casting aging in a positive light. Click here to access the TED playlist: Talks to make you feel good about getting older