The most important thing about an improved old age will be the simple fact that it will be good to be old. Given life, liberty, and a variety of clear paths to happiness, late life will be fuller than ever before.
—Dr. Joe Coughlin
A hat—it was an indispensable part of wardrobes for centuries. Even if you didn’t want to wear one, you did. Then in the early 1960s, seeing one became a rarity. The hat went away. This disappearance represented more than a simple change in fashion. The story we told ourselves—how someone garbs and presents themselves in a public setting—changed almost overnight. Society chose to stop agreeing on one version of how things worked. Instead, it accepted that there could be multiple variations of what could happen atop a head. All of a sudden, there was a choice.
Similarly, you have a choice about how you’ll age. You’ve been told a certain story of what aging should look like. And for a long time, we've bought into an “old age” story filled with leisure and relaxation. But what if our thoughts about aging changed, like what happened with hats? What if one day, we woke up and realized things could change if we wanted them to? We didn’t have to live a vision of old age that was created years ago. Our later years could actually be anything that we want.
First, Where “Old Age” Came From
Society paints the story of aging adults with a single wide brush stroke—old. But aging unfolds differently for everyone, and old isn’t really anyone’s defining attribute, is it? That’s because those considered older are people of every conceivable variety: ethnicity, religion, sexuality, medical status, interests, political persuasion—and anything else you could name under the sun. Their identity is more than simply the number of years they’ve lived.
Who Came Up With the Concept of “Old Age” Anyway?
Our very notion of “old age” is made up. It’s a socially constructed, historically contingent, and deeply flawed idea. This narrowly focused narrative no longer applies to a majority of us—yet, we tell it every day. We still agree to live it.