You’re as old as you feel. Age is just in your head. Cliches, old saws. Things “they” say whoever they are. Guess what? It turns out they’re bang on.
Ellen Langer has a new book out called Counterclockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility in which she recounts some fascinating research. In one of her experiments she had some elderly men in a hotel done up in the style of 20 years earlier. In their late 70’s and early 80’s, the men were told to imagine themselves back in that time. After just one week, they had better flexibility, less arthritis and more cognitive snappiness. They walked better and stood better than the control group.
In another example, Langer and her colleagues turned an eye chart upside down. They figured that people expect to have more trouble reading as they went down each line, and they wondered how reversing that expectation might affect eye-sight. And indeed they found people able to read letters they couldn’t read the other way around.
Dressing older or younger also affected people’s perception of their own aging and hence their actual health. When people wore uniforms, overall their health as they got older was better than people in the same jobs who didn’t. (Perhaps the message here is that we should all be mutton dressed as lamb!)
I think this is all the more true for women whose clothes vary more across the decades and who are subjected to more messages about being young and what that should look like.
This all makes me think of Brenda Ueland, who set a new record in swimming for people over 80 years old and wrote the best book on writing ever, according to Carl Sandburg (and I’d agree it’s one of them): If You Want to Write: a Book about Art, Independence and Spirit. Although she published millions of words as a journalist, she wrote only two books, a memoir and that one. Originally published in 1938, it’s still a bestseller for Graywolf Press. According to Wikipedia, she lived by two tenets (and many lovers): “To tell the truth, and to not do anything she didn’t want to.”
So perhaps we should wear what we please and think of ourselves as vigorous and sexy and wise and ready for adventure. We should stop measuring ourselves with accomplishments and regrets and an eye toward a shortened future and instead fire up enthusiasm for all that we are and all that we might be. And even in those sad moments we all have, it need never be too late but just well begun.
H/T The Situationist.