Aging sucks, right?
That’s certainly the conventional wisdom. In a world in thrall to youth, the message coming from all sides is that, after a certain point, each birthday makes you less attractive, less productive, less happy, less energetic, less creative, less healthy, less open-minded, less sexual – and more lonely.
But is that true? Is it really all downhill from 30 or 40?
Of course not.
Look at Christine Lagarde running global financial institutions in her 60s. Or Sir David Attenborough making amazing documentaries and spearheading the fight against climate change in his nineties.
The truth is that many of the grim stereotypes about aging are just plain wrong. Including the one about later life being an automatic ticket to Planet Lonely.
Just look at the numbers. These days, the loneliest generation are the millennials, nearly a third of whom report always or often feeling lonely. That’s double the rate found among baby boomers.
Of course, many older people are lonely, especially towards the end of life. Losing loved ones can be terribly isolating. But not everyone’s later years are blighted by loneliness, not by a long shot.
Across much of the world, levels of happiness and life satisfaction are highest among the over-55s. One reason for that: we tend to forge stronger relationships as we age.
“Older adults typically report better marriages, more supportive friendships, less conflict with children and siblings and closer ties with members of their social networks than younger adults,” says Karen Fingerman, a professor of human development and family sciences at the University of Texas, Austin.
In other words, loneliness is not a natural part of aging. More often it’s a function of modern life: looser families, consumerism, income inequality, working culture, housing, technology. That’s why loneliness is a scourge in every generation.
The good news is there are things we can all do – whatever age we are – to avoid falling into the Lonely Trap.
Spend more time in sociable places, in the real world or online. Join a club dedicated to your favorite hobby. Offer to teach someone something or to help them with a problem. Be upbeat and curious about others. Mix with other generations, both younger and older.
Aging does not suck. With the right attitude, and a little luck, it can actually be pretty wonderful.
And later life can be the opposite of lonely.