It is hard to find an expert today who has much good to say about the retirement outlook for older Americans. There is not enough money. Working until 70 or even 75 is a necessity, not a positive lifestyle choice. Healthcare problems and costs are the two primary growth industries for seniors. Medicare and Social Security are on the ropes.
Even good news about longer life spans is being spun into the negative reality that this just means our meager nest eggs are more likely to run out before we die. Adding some guilt to the mix, baby boomers are not the greatest generation but the greediest one, saddling younger people with enormous deficits in entitlement programs.
Crime in the United States is actually down. So is the incidence of armed conflict throughout the world. But there will always be more than enough mayhem to fill the next newscast or edition of the paper. Technology has created a 24-hour news cycle where all news is local news. And if there isn't much real news, the bloggers and instant pundits will fill in any slow moments and then some.
Against this flood of depressing current events, surveys regularly document that older people, and God bless them for this, are finding happiness as they age. Their ability to weather all the negativity and daily woe around them should be an instructive lesson to all of us. Here are five interconnected silver linings of aging. They help explain why older people may either tune out the news or not be adversely affected by it.
1. It's irrelevant to me. When I was growing up, my mother actually did tell me to eat my food because there were kids starving in China. I'm still not sure how consuming more lima beans solved world hunger, but the guilt trip helped clean a lot of plates in our household. When my own kids were balking at the dinner table, I tried to trot out the same line. I was silenced when my then seven-year-old replied, "Name one." News from China, whether real or imagined, had no meaning for him. As we get older, the relevance of much that happens fades in significance. We've either seen it before (and emerged none the worse for the experience), have shed phony guilt for the misfortunes of others, or, if we're honest, simply find that such events have no bearing on our own lives.
2. I change what I can. By the time people reach their 60s or 70s, their value systems are usually well-developed. Instead of feeling they have an obligation to change everything that's wrong with the world, they have learned to make choices. They focus their volunteer efforts on things they can change. Call it living life in the world of the possible. It can be a very productive, guilt-free place.
3. My world is smaller. Social scientists have long found that older people shrink their environments as they age. Family and friends grow up and move away. Workplace relationships fade after retirement. Social circles tend to shrink. As people become frailer and physically vulnerable, they may reduce the size their physical environment as a way of maintaining control. These can be negative adjustments to aging, but they don't have to be.
4. I know what I like. Older people are more willing to weed out people from their social circles that do not add value to their lives. They seek out positive social relationships, and appreciate the value of looking on the bright side. As we age, doorways have closed to pathways we might have taken earlier in our lives. With fewer doors, choices become more focused and the benefits of positive attitudes and decisions often become more apparent.
5. My remaining time is limited. The reasons older people tune out the news ultimately link back to the recognition that their time is limited and increasingly precious. Why waste it on paying attention to negative news events that are beyond a person's control? The real story as we age involves what we are making of our lives, usually with loved ones and friends. If I could get my sons to listen to me about anything these days, it would be to tell them that everyone's time is limited, no matter how old they are.