We’re living longer – do it boldly!

Can being bolder help us deflect the pervasive effect of the negative-age-brigade? asks Rebecca Weef Smith

Carl Honoré believes there is much we can do to confront the cult of youth and support all ages to flourish. In his new book, Bolder, he reveals cutting-edge research on ageing well and discovers how we age in the real world, sharing stories of those who are challenging the stereotype that growing old is to be feared. The barrier to this new Golden Age is ageism.  Bolder points out the part we play in accepting society’s harmful view of getting older, and, even better, offers us inspiration to challenge and change our own perceptions of age. Those of us lucky enough to be at the Circle Sq. evening at JW3 were treated to a focused version of how we can take charge of our own internal ageist tendencies and change the record for good. For those not there on the night, I suggest you buy the book pronto!

Asserting that the problem is not ageing but ageism, Carl set out why ageism is a problem we need to tackle together.  You may be shocked to know that if you start to type ‘I lie about my…’ Google will helpfully end the sentence for you with ‘…age’. Ageism is so powerful that it provokes us to lie.  We lie to ourselves. We lie to our friends, family, and colleagues. And what message are we imparting when we knock ten years off our age? We are colluding in the idea that to be young is the nirvana we all aspire to. But, according to research, the reality is that the opposite can be true, and life after fifty just gets better and better.

According to Carl, we are entering a golden age of ageing. He refuted the five main stereotypes which hold us back from embracing the concept of positive ageing:

  1. Growing old makes us sad – Untrue, the happiness curve shows us time and time again that the highest levels of wellbeing occurs in the over 55s. Even Pete Townsend author of the most ageist line in any song – I hope I die before I get old – was surprised to find he was happier in his sixties than in his youthful heyday.
  2. Creativity belongs to the young – Tell that to all the artists who are more prolific than ever when they hit their fifties. Brain scans support this extra creative surge in later life; age frees up our neural pathways and helps us to discover innovative solutions more than ever; we are less encumbered by the parts of our brain which inhibit originality so become more creative not less.
  3. Older people are less productive – Again not true. Productivity rises as we age and with the help of extra creativity many of the best ideas come to us after fifty.
  4. Entrepreneurship belongs to the young – Contrary to what we see on The Apprentice, the world of start-ups is filled with the over fifties and the most successful founders are more likely to be middle-aged and older.
  5. Older people lose the ability to learn – No, our brains continue to be able to absorb and process new information at any age. Even in the youth-obsessed tech world the over 55s are proving they are just as capable as digital natives: Code Academy has 1.2 million over 55s learning to code and going into tech workplaces alongside millennials.

So these stereotypes are wrong. The actual narrative is far more up-beat and we see evidence of this all around us: men and women in their 50s, 60s, 70s and beyond living life to the full; breaking records in sport, changing the world with activism, creating award-winning art, founding new enterprises and establishing new relationships. These role models are embracing their age and trampling all over the restrictions imposed by an ageist society.

We also have demographics on our side. The world is getting older, we have strength in numbers and that, coupled with the fact that the old have more share of the worlds’ wealth, means that that, like it or not, we are a force to be reckoned with.