As it turns out, most grumpy old people used to be grumpy young people. Aging doesn’t turn a cheerful person into a grouch. To the contrary, research has shown that, as we age, we become more emotionally stable and content. In early adulthood, there are a lot of what-ifs: Am I going to find a soul mate? Have a child? Build a rewarding career? Then you spend the next few decades striving to achieve those goals. But when you’re older, the what-ifs have been resolved. So you are less stressed and can—finally—relax.
Laura Carstensen, 57, is a psychologist and the director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, in Stanford, California.
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Wise Decisions Will Come More Easily
Scientists used to think that we lose a significant number of our brain cells as we age, but more sophisticated scans have debunked that theory. We now know that we hit our cognitive peak between the ages of 40 and 68. Through the years, our brains build up connections and recognize patterns—meaning we’re better problem-solvers and can more quickly get the gist of an argument. It’s the reason why judges and presidents tend to be middle-aged or older, and why Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger was able to land that airplane on the Hudson River. Older brains can swiftly make the right calls.
Barbara Strauch, 59, is the science editor of the New York Times and the author of The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain ($15, amazon.com).
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The Fashion Police Will Be Off Your Back
Go ahead and wear five-finger running shoes or orthopedic sandals. No longer must you prance around in painful heels. Now you can climb steep steps past young wobblies in magnificent toe-crushers. You may have to feign a small limp if you want men to rush to your aid. But it’s worth it, knowing that one of the greatest contributors to longevity is moving—fast, on flat feet.
Gail Sheehy, 74, is the author of Passages ($14, amazon.com), Sex and the Seasoned Woman ($14, amazon.com), and 14 other books.
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You’ll Know Who You Are
A sense of urgency comes with aging. Before I was 75, I was tentative about many things. But now I know my own voice, and most important, I have the confidence to use it. Today I’m blogging and giving speeches and participating in all sorts of activities that, honestly, I would have been incapable of back in my 60s.
Betty Reid Soskin, 89, is a full-time park ranger for the Rosie The Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historic Park, in Richmond, California.
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You’ll Have Time on Your Hands
If you’ve been driving yourself for years—working, raising a family, or both—it’s an adjustment to have spare time once your job has slowed down and the kids have flown the coop. The good thing about getting older is that you’ve seen it all, lived it all, felt it all—and now you can take a moment to share what you’ve learned. I dedicate many of my hours these days to mentoring people: I’ve helped friends’ children choose careers and advised a girlfriend on how to start the second chapter in her professional life. I can’t think of a way to spend my time that is more gratifying.
Anne Kreamer, 55, is the author of Going Gray ($4, amazon.com) and It’s Always Personal ($15, amazon.com).