How to age and not become mentally/socially rigid and cranky?
May 2, 2016 5:13 AM   Subscribe

My husband points out that as people age (40s, 50s, 60s, and beyond), they become cranky and rigid, and previously benign idiosyncrasies become more pronounced. Everyone in my family has died young, so I have little experience with this. What's the science behind this, and how can we avoid this happening?
posted by metarkest to Health & Fitness (31 answers total) 107 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: In my previous professional life I worked with and for both seniors and for a magazine geared towards women aged 40-60 so I have some thoughts out of that. Plus I'm 45.

I think there are people who get cranky. There are also a whole bunch of people who start to do really neat things like raise money for orphanages and climb Kilimanjaro. I've thought on the difference a lot and I think there are three or four main things:

1. Stay active physically
2. Keep learning new things
3. Look for people and causes or interests to stay passionate about
4. Luck

IME, and studies on the benefits of exercise back this up, the biggest thing is to stay strong and active.

The "happiness U" actually shows people report feeling the most unhappy at midlife. This is a time that we all realize that we haven't done XYZ, we've gotten penned in by ABC choices or circumstances, etc. I personally suspect, though, that my generation (Gen X) may in some ways have a tougher time because currently older people as seen as disposable pieces of the labour force. On the other hand, lots of us have prioritized family and friends all along and been ironic at work so maybe we'll end up even happier.

People who are old and cranky often also are legitimately so in that they may be in chronic pain, may have suffered disappointment or may have never found their groove. Some people do things like childrearing with an expectation it will 'pay off' but that's not really how it works.

Also, as a woman I am sliding into complete invisibility and sometimes it makes me cranky. I had a debit transaction fail at the grocery store yesterday and I told the clerk so three times before the younger man behind me told her the same thing - and she heard him. I was not soft spoken.

Other people just plain like complaining.

Also, getting older has a sense of letting go of a lot of external expectations. At work right now, for example, I definitely want to do my best work and be a collegial member of the team. But I have less and less need to be 'friends' or do things like watch a show I'm really not interested in to fit in. I have great friends outside of work, with whom I laugh and bond. At work I'm more focused. The young'uns probably see this as narrow and boring, but a lot of it is that I just don't share as readily.

To be fair, to, my brain is slowing down a bit. I'm in a new job and had to learn a lot fast and it has been really, really good for me. But it also made me realize it's getting a bit harder. I'm committed to keep learning /hard/.

Anyways, I'd live the life you want now, floss, use sunscreen, work out, and look for ways to connect with what interests you & helps your community.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:53 AM on May 2, 2016 [50 favorites]

Best answer: I'll second everything warriorqueen says, and add some insights from a 52 year old guy.

I have friends from high school who are my age, but act much older. I have friends who are younger than me, in their mid-40s, who act much older. I attribute this to a few things:

1. They picked a point in their lives and haven't been interested in anything that's happened past that point. They don't listen to or seek out new music, they're not interested in new books, they've kept the exact same hobbies and activities. Nothing for them ever changes, so their lives get narrower and narrower.

2. All the information they get about the world is done in a passive manner - meaning they don't go out and look for it, it's delivered to them and they just accept it. This goes for news, music, art, TV, movies, books, etc.

3. Everyone they know is exactly like them. They went to high school with people exactly like them, they went to college with people exactly like them, and they work with people exactly like them. They go to church with people exactly like them, and socialize with people exactly like them. They live in a giant echo chamber of the same opinions and attitudes and beliefs.

To avoid becoming old and cranky, I'd suggest to always be on the lookout for new things that you think might be interesting, and do them. Or at least, give them a try. In my mid-40s I started taking tai chi, and that's something I'll be doing for as long as I'm physically able. There is one couple in my tai chi class who are in their 70s and are lots of fun to hang out with, because they're always doing something new. Once I get some free time, I want to try weight training and possibly yoga. Staying physically active is key.

Get to know people who aren't exactly like you. Have a broad interest in different kinds of art and music to keep your mind engaged. And pay attention to the people in your life who are older and still enjoying their lives - what are they doing? They might have some good behaviors for you to model.
posted by ralan at 6:52 AM on May 2, 2016 [46 favorites]

Best answer: About 15 years ago I was on a long train ride. On that train ride I met a little old lady with the most amazing joie de vivre: she had her arm in a sling ("I just broke my wrist climbing mountains in Norway but you have to expect that when you do crazy shit like that at 87") and she was travelling to see family ("my son tells me to slow down but we only live once - do you want a slice of this cheese I bought in France? It's stinky but so are all the good things in life"). I'm not kidding when I say that the entire compartment hugged her goodbye when she was about to get off the train. In 25 minutes I learned this from her:

1. She kept trying out new things - she was 87 and hadn't lost her sense of curiosity about the world.
2. She travelled as much as her health and purse would allow.
3. She kept wanting to meet new people and was interested in everybody's stories.

There was something so warm and open about this lady that I rarely see in people (even young people). Sure, there is a huge amount of privilege in being able to travel (health & money, hey) but even just a short train ride was treated as an adventure.

It's a mind set that I've tried to adopt as much to the best of my ability.
posted by kariebookish at 7:21 AM on May 2, 2016 [63 favorites]

Best answer: I'm 70 and have a different perspective. Things just aren't the way they used to be. Acknowledge that truth and cut them a little slack. Maybe ask grumpy folks what the good/not so good old days were really like.
posted by Carol Anne at 7:21 AM on May 2, 2016 [11 favorites]

Best answer: This isn't even a good Wikipedia article, but it has links to some good personality-changes studies.

as people age (40s, 50s, 60s, and beyond), they become cranky and rigid

I totally resemble this! My feelings are very similar to warriorqueen. Once you hit this age (I'm 47) whatever "Oh yeah I'm totally going to buy a tiny house and raise chickens" talk you may be talking has reached the "put up or shut up" stage. I think some people respond by finally doing the thing while they feel able-bodied enough to do it and some people just shut up and then their dreams get silently quashed and that's a hard feeling.

And yeah some health stuff pops up which isn't that much fun, and you have to learn new strategies for that sort of thing--both just doing more to stay healthy but also to get used to the fact that you may have ongoing health challenges and that's the new normal. Likewise dealing with a memory that's not as sharp. You have to develop new strategies, not just try to wish it away. Learn to love your 15 pairs of reading glasses, etc.

Technology doesn't help with this, if you're not really affirmatively INTO learning new things, it can be challenging to keep up. It's funny, to me, watching people of my generation talking about how stupid Snapchat is when what they mean is they don't understand it (and don't get me wrong, it's also sort of stupid but I had to learn to use it first to really know what ;))

And OMG female invisibility is really a thing! My mom had told me and even so I was surprised as it started to happen.

I really decided I wanted to age well and that involved making some changes, some obvious and some not so obvious

- health and fitness -- it's my JOB now to stay healthy not just a nice thing once in a while. This means going to the gym, eating better most of the time (not all the time) and limiting smoking and drinking. Getting enough sleep like it's my JOB also.
- new stuff -- keep trying the things! If I'm not doing things try to figure out if I have "good" reasons for that or if it's anxieties and neuroticisms getting in my way. Try to power through those things. Meet and talk with new people. Don't assume I know the way the world is because I met a person or two who told me a thing. Always be learning.
- mind fitness - I pay more attention to which things make my brain feel good and part of that is other people. I try to maintain a positive outlook in life for me and when I interact with other people. I don't always manage it, but one of the things that makes it harder is friends and neighbors who are constant complainers. This may work for them, totally AOK, but I limit time I spend with them because it doesn't work for me. So trying to balance my own mental well-being with trying to help others. In the past I was always a self-sacrificer so that others could feel better, I do less of that now.

Other than some health stuff that may be out of our control because of the genetic lottery there are a lot of things that can be managed or attended to with some foresight and discipline. Not that this is simple but it's possible and its worth keeping that in mind.
posted by jessamyn at 7:30 AM on May 2, 2016 [33 favorites]

Best answer: Re: the part ralan raised about having a life that becomes narrow and limited. That made me think. Sometimes the cranky narrowing is because a particular aging person has less energy and they are hoarding it. And, in addition, a particular aging person might have limited money and be hoarding it. (I wish I had typed faster, because I think jessamyn's comment effectively answers mine.)
posted by puddledork at 7:39 AM on May 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: The habits you form in your 20s and 30s have a strong chance of solidifying in your 40s and later. I've seen a lot of people who have had some set of habits that they just kept as they got older.

You can get away with a lot when you are younger. You can be an ass to people, you can disregard your health, you can affect a jaded cynical outlook. Then you are 40 and idiosyncrasy, pattern of thought or habit X has worked for you for 20 years, so you double down. Many of these habits are not helpful. They seem like they are not a problem because they haven't obviously ruined your life.

Humans are amazingly plastic. Observe yourself, take stock of your habits and patterns of though, asses if they are healthy, kill the ones that are not.
posted by bdc34 at 8:28 AM on May 2, 2016 [6 favorites]

Best answer: A middle aged guy once asked me why the old were so often cranky, mean, bleak. I told him that perhaps they knew things that he would find out later in life. Not a happy note, right? Ok. One reason is that so many they knew at an earlier age have died, got seriously ill, or housed in nursing homes. The offset then seems to be to try to mix socially, perhaps through church, volunteer activities, clubs, etc. and keep both socially and physically active. ps: I am nearly 87 and that is what I find fun and fulfilling.
posted by Postroad at 8:39 AM on May 2, 2016 [19 favorites]

Best answer: As a 64-year-old, I have definitely noticed my memory weakening, though so far (*knock wood*) I haven't had much in the way of age-related physical problems; I suspect my love for foreign languages and lifelong habit of picking up new ones (and generally putting them down before long), as well as my current immersion in Russian literature (which involves constantly looking up words and trying to understand contexts), are doing good things for my mental flexibility, "keeping me young" (in the silly but common phrase).
posted by languagehat at 9:15 AM on May 2, 2016 [13 favorites]

Best answer: I think part of it is that as life gets harder, humans naturally seek comfort where they can. And routines/familiarity are very comfortable. I can already see this in myself, in my mid-30s--I still try to get out and shake things up, but I'm MUCH crankier when shit goes sideways than I used to be. I want to be fed and rested and not too drunk and properly hydrated, and it's hard to be really spontaneous while worrying about those things. ;)

I've actually started taking note of this in myself because I can see its extreme in my mother. She has done many of the things people are recommending on this thread: she is extremely fit, has a wide circle of friends, keeps a busy social calendar. However, she is increasingly becoming a creature of habit, which she did not used to be, not at all.

It causes her a lot of anxiety to drive to a new neighborhood, try a new bar/restaurant, or otherwise step out of her comfortable routine. (One example that stands out in my mind was my birthday -- I requested a brunch rather than a dinner-and-drinks. She flat-out refused to come, and tried to argue me out of it for DAYS. It was as if I'd said "let's do nude skydiving!")

Initially, my siblings and I indulged her in this, and just went along with her routines. But lately, I have been making an effort to push her out of her comfort zone. Not because I want her to be anxious, but because when she DOES do something different, she invariably enjoys it. It then gets added to her list of "okay safe things to do" and her world gets a little wider. And so does mine.

So I guess my advice would be, find someone who's willing to push you out of your comfort zone a little bit, and practice being okay with being uncertain and anxious NOW, so that it becomes a habit to say "well, this is terrifying! let's go!"
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:21 AM on May 2, 2016 [9 favorites]

Best answer: I'm 55. A lot of people my age have seen many things and are confident they have it all pretty well figured out. They're the miserable ones.
posted by klarck at 9:27 AM on May 2, 2016 [7 favorites]

Best answer: At one of my college reunions, I was talking to an older alum who still seemed "cool" about this and she said that she stays open to the world by continuing to take classes and learn new things. She takes a class on something new every year, not just the things she knows about.
I think about that a lot, and I also try to learn about a new or new to me topic every year.
posted by rmless at 9:33 AM on May 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: All the things above, and as much as possible - seek solutions for health problems you're having.

Chronic pain can make a person crabby! My mom cheered up a ton after her hip replacement in her late 60s. She hadn't even realized how much pain she had been in.

My dad (early 70s) had been sleeping a lot recently and seemed groggy and out of it and he's finally been diagnosed with low blood oxygen (possible COPD) and has an oxygen machine for home. He's so much more alert and the same process of finding the low oxygen also lead to him getting home physical therapy for his slumped-over posture and reluctance to walk much.

Changes to your physical body can limit your activity or make you reluctant to do certain things and I'm trying to make a promise to myself to keep on top my health and pain levels.
posted by Squeak Attack at 10:05 AM on May 2, 2016 [7 favorites]

Best answer: This has not really been my experience, as someone who comes from a family of people who live to be very old (I'm in my mid 30s and still have all of my grandparents, for example).

I think this is something that can happen. Some people are just assholes, and that's kind of how it is.

But all of my grandparents, who are in their mid/upper 80s, have never shown any evidence of this thing you're talking about. (Well, one of my grandmothers has dementia, and she has had behavioral changes because of that, but I'm guessing this isn't what your question is about.) My mom (late 50s) has a few "crank" adjacent political opinions, but that's more down to the fact that my stepfather is and as far as I know always has been a rightwing nutjob. We're from the Bible Belt, there are people of all ages here who have abhorrent beliefs about the world.

I do find that there can sometimes be a tendency to become small-c conservative as one ages. You will sometimes hear middle aged people say things like "We didn't have [seatbelts, participation trophies, AP coursework, drunk driving laws, etc] when I was a kid, and I turned out fine!" Which is really more of a logical fallacy than it is a psychological problem. I sometimes catch myself having these thoughts at 35, and I just try to be conscious of them and remind myself how silly that line of thought is. I try to make a conscious effort to learn new things, listen to people I perceive as younger than me, and not to have knee-jerk reactions to things.

Otherwise, we're all just getting along in life the best we can. There's no THING that happens to you at age 40 where you suddenly become a crotchety asshole. And if it does happen to you, that's called being a jerk, in general. So just try not to be a jerk?
posted by Sara C. at 10:06 AM on May 2, 2016 [9 favorites]

Best answer: My father, who lived to be 92, said that the people who were mean, petty, crabby and rigid, as well as disgustingly prejudiced as old people had always been that way, just that some of them got worse. People who had always been decent and kind stayed that way. Both my parents were generous and basically happy people until they died. Neither had dementia but were physically disabled in their last few years, but they were reasonable about accepting help of all kinds, giving up driving etc. This was not the experience of my friends whose parents had been nasty when young, they stayed nasty until the end and made it difficult for their children to help them when they were old.
posted by mermayd at 10:21 AM on May 2, 2016 [12 favorites]

Best answer: An unknown wanker picked a fight with me on my Facebook page this weekend. By all appearances he was one of the planet's crankier souls. He was anti-semitic, anti-Islam, anti-immigrant, it turned out; I used the word "kosher" and he -- genius, clearly -- decided (1) this meant I was calling him Jewish, and (2) this was an insult.

I creeped his page and found a lot of miserable "shares." "Share this if you were whipped as a child and knew how to today have no respect for anything"-type nonsense. The argument he inserted himself into had to do with a summary of a rather interesting meta-study. I don't think he had the ability to really understand what he was reading, if he read it at all. He was just dead positive that since he was beaten as a kid, this was the correct way to raise children, etc. "Words don't work 100% of the time with people of all ages," or something. An angry, violent bigot, who, when presented with new information, fought against it. Delightful.

The most striking thing was that it was in the middle of a number of voices of "Yes. My parent hit me and I lost all respect for them. Our relationship never recovered. I just learned to avoid her," and he breezed right by both the research and the experiences of others.

I think once you stop learning, you're almost as good as dead. Every foul-tempered old I've ever encountered have been where klark put it: "A lot of people my age have seen many things and are confident they have it all pretty well figured out. They're the miserable ones."

In re. "I'm 70 and have a different perspective. Things just aren't the way they used to be. Acknowledge that truth and cut them a little slack. Maybe ask grumpy folks what the good/not so good old days were really like" -- no, things are not what they used to be, and that will always be the status quo. Periodically I like to sit back and look at something like my iPad and just revel in the amazing-ness of it. I started life with three channels on teevee; at this point I pretty much expect to die because I've crashed my hover-wheelchair. The world is an astonishing place and advances are coming at a rapid pace nowadays. Which does not mean I listen to much post-1990 music; it's easy enough to pick and choose what parts of the new stuff you wish to participate in.

There are quite a number of pages on the web listing peoples' complaints about the latest crop of young people. Few of the complaints change. Moaning old people have been moaning for centuries.

I think one of the best ways to avoid turning into that brand of pain is to engage with young people and their culture to some degree. Once I was struck dumb on a bus by a very, very elderly gentleman having a tremendously engaging conversation with a teenage boy. It was one of those very witty rapid-fire conversations you occasionally see between two quick wits. Neither seemed to take any notice of the age gap. I was tremendously impressed and desperately hope to have some interesting things to say to young folk on buses when I'm that age -- I hope I want to talk to young folk. It is the stagnation that kills off the ability to delight in the world.

(My health is crummy and I live with chronic pain and I'm not totally buying that as an excuse. It is a challenge to adjust to 'new normal' physically, but quite do-able. I remember calling my grandma one evening see how she was doing; she had been in the hospital for a while, and came out in a wheelchair for the remainder of her life. She was, as always, happy to hear from me, cheerful, effusively polite. But it seemed like she was in a bit of a mood to get off the phone, and I could hear some background noise I couldn't identify. 'Grandma, sorry, did I interrupt you in the middle of something?' I had. She was busy hosting a party.)
posted by kmennie at 10:45 AM on May 2, 2016 [11 favorites]

Best answer: My ex is 66, has buried both his parents, seen various people get old and die, etc. He says that whatever you are like when you're younger just becomes more pronounced as you get up there. The cheerful, adventuresome old lady was largely that way at 30, at 20, etc. Food for thought!
posted by 8603 at 10:55 AM on May 2, 2016 [5 favorites]

Best answer: My wife's grandfather is 102. He barely escaped the Bolshevik pogroms, survived severe frostbite as a poor farm labourer in Manitoba, lost his first wife in his 40's and had to raise 8 kids on his own. He's survived multiple strokes, brain cancer, severe drug interactions, the loss of his second wife and recently the loss of one of his children. You'd think he'd be bitter about loss or change but he is easily one of the most tolerant & remarkable men I have ever met.

What's his secret? As far as I can tell he has an active body & brain, empathetic & engaged in life and understands how precious it is. He's moderately involved with his church (he doesn't care for "holy rollers" so he limits that), he is always interested in learning new things with people - he's learning Tagalog from the Filipino nurses who help him out & programming from one of his son-in-laws. He regularly uses his recumbent stationary bike and often drives his age in kilometres each fortnight (give or take). He was still doing many of the household maintenance himself until recently - he re-shingled his roof in his 80's by himself. He lived at home until he no longer wanted to shovel snow (this is Winnipeg - so that's a lot of snow) which was well into his 90's and currently lives in an assisted living condo complex. Not sure if that really helps but it does illustrate what warriorqueen said above.
posted by Ashwagandha at 11:25 AM on May 2, 2016 [8 favorites]

Best answer: I can recommend a book that directly addresses this: A Life Complete: Emotional and Spiritual Growth for Midlife and Beyond.
posted by moira at 11:42 AM on May 2, 2016 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I just turned 63 and though things are not what they used to be in terms of physical abilities, I think there are people who are slightly prone to negativity when they are younger who get really negative when they are older. I have a few friends who my relationships are ending with because I cannot take the constant complaining about the world and the people in it.

For me, being around all age groups keeps me open to new ideas and approaches to living. I took an art class at the senior center and hated it. It had a group of women in it that I recognized from the 7th grade know that group of mean girls...I thought WTF does this never end. I enrolled in community college where I am currently listening to the young complain about how the boomers don't have to pay full tuition. Boohoo.

I tend to be a more positive person by nature. Even though my health pretty much sucks I still feel very positive about finding ways to be productive, learn new things and enjoy myself. It does require a great deal of flexability and letting go. Not everyone can do that. But it really does help make life so much easier.
posted by cairnoflore at 12:01 PM on May 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: The is article, Better Aging Through Practice, Practice, Practice, really resonated with me. I'm 54, started running just over 4 years ago, and it's now an amazing part of my life. I think about running A LOT - how to improve, how to train and recover, what to eat, what to wear. I've gone down entire rabbit warrens about barefoot running and high-fat, low-carb diets. And I'm loving it all!

It's not that it's running per se. (Although I can't think of what else might be better). But that I'm passionate about something new. Learning something new. Trying to get better. And yeah, the whole expectation of never being really good or elite, but still just working to improve. Oh, the meeting of a whole new circle of people. All of this aside from feeling fitter and healthier than I have been in a looooong time.

Ahem. I should stop gushing. Anyway, running is my tennis and it has made my life better :)
posted by maupuia at 12:13 PM on May 2, 2016 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I feel like my grandmother, who turns 90 in a matter of days, has this figured out. I think she's an amazing role model for aging - for a lot of things, actually. Part of her success is due to the fact that she doesn't have dementia, which could be partly due to her healthy habits, but it's probably mostly luck. However, there's a lot she's done that isn't luck...

1. She has volunteered for various causes for her entire adult life. She and my grandfather hosted new immigrants/refugees for decades. They worked together to preserve a great deal of land in the form of public parks. They built more than 50 houses (with others) with Habitat for Humanity. My grandmother lobbied her state government to ban billboards, which they did. She served on several city boards and committees related to conservation, and she just quit her last one LAST MONTH because her hearing was too poor for her to participate. Now she staffs a charity shop at a local UU church, and hosts traveling classical musicians in her house. And carefully donates her money. She still feels useful and needed - and she is.

2. She has never stopped learning or considered herself too old for new hobbies. She took up half-marathon running at 55. She took physics classes as an adult, even though she was a French teacher. She taught me Morse code and other ham radio stuff when I was a kid. She studied Spanish in her 60s. She and my grandfather were avid folk dancers. She plays piano. She's an expert knitter. I can't even keep track of all her hobbies.

3. She reads a lot. She has a standing reading date with her next-door neighbor, who is 91 - they've been doing it for 50 years. She reads a new biography every other week. She reads a newspaper and the New Yorker and all kinds of other articles that come her way.

4. She stays active. She is *still* (as of last winter) cross-country skiing and doing some gentle hiking. This has absolutely not been easy. She has back problems, she's had terrible shoulder injuries, and she COULD have become sedentary after any number of accidents, but she went to physical therapy and said "Oh well, guess it's harder to stay fit when you're old" and kept working at it. She isn't clinging to youth or anything, but she's not giving up either. Just a few months ago she decided she was at risk of falls because her balance is poor. So she signed up for a balance-exercise class at the local senior center.

5. She understands that some wisdom changes. She always says, "One generation's wisdom can be the next generation's folly". She has watched nutritional advice change from "eat more meat and potatoes" to "eat low fat" to "eat healthy fats and whole grains", and she does her best to stay current without being fanatical or buying into fads. She knows that parenting has changed, and she's been humble, respectful and complimentary towards me as I raise my own son. She talks about things she wishes she had done differently with her own children, but doesn't seem too tortured over past mistakes. Over the years she has grown away from the Congregational church she used to attend, and become a Unitarian Universalist, especially as acceptance of LGBT people has grown. I was so proud of her for formally declaring herself to be pro-gay-marriage. She's not afraid to change.

6. She has impeccably good manners. She never speaks ill of others, even when they do things she finds weird or wrong.

7. Although she accepts change, she has deep convictions, too. She believes very strongly in Yankee "make do" values - use it up, wear it out, make do with less, be resourceful. She loves northern New England folk and church music and continues to keep those traditions alive in our family. She's a great cook of traditional New England food. She's the last person I would ever call rootless, despite her flexibility.

8. She has somehow had the strength to accept the loss of her husband to dementia, and the loss (by this point) of almost all her friends, without becoming bitter. Her 2 best friends are mercifully still alive and healthy (though one is blind), but all the loss hasn't made her depressed. SAD, yes, but not depressed, as far as we can tell. She still wants to live, I think because she's so busy and has so much on her to-do list. Dinners with friends, volunteering, visiting family, nature walks, household projects, parties... She just doesn't seem to be done living yet.

I really hope I grow up to be just like her.
posted by Cygnet at 12:43 PM on May 2, 2016 [47 favorites]

Best answer: I think it is a big generalization to say that older people tend to be rigid and cranky. Thinking about the older people I know, this has not been my experience.
posted by selfmedicating at 7:13 PM on May 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Mid 50s here with many older friends. I wouldn't say they are old and cranky though - mostly too busy to be cranky and I think that's the key. Stay engaged, stay as fit as possible, keep doing new stuff and stay in touch with younger people too.
posted by leslies at 7:26 PM on May 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I do think it's a combination of the following:
(a) Youth is a state of mind--if you keep doing new things and keeping up your activities and having a good time. As opposed to the people mentioned in this thread that keep listening to nothing but the oldies and watching Elvis movies and going to bed at seven p.m.
(b) Chronic pain can definitely influence this.
(c) Just feeling burned out on the world. If you've been seeing the same kind of crap going on for 20, 30, or 40 years, wouldn't you be cranky and sick of it?

Seriously, I have a coworker who sticks to the oldies and watching TV and going to bed early and has chronic pain and I strongly suspect she's gonna end up with dementia like my grandma who did the same thing. By comparison, my boss is around the same age and she's bouncy and energetic and does things, not just sitting there all day doing nothing much. One of them acts like she's 30 or 40 and the other acts like she's 90. Chronic pain aside, it does depend on your choices.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:34 PM on May 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Not to over-hype the running aspect, but hey! :)
posted by maupuia at 11:09 PM on May 2, 2016

Response by poster: Thank you all so much for the thoughtful and enlightening answers! Mr Metarkest also read through them and was impressed both with the content and the depth. (He's not spent much time on MeFi yet.)

I'm in my mid 40s and have friends of all ages, many through a meditation group I belong to, and I walk a ton (3+ miles daily, plus regular 6-15 mile weekend hikes). I love learning and trying all the things, so it sounds like I'm on the right track! I'm also generally positive, but being overworked makes me cranky, and I don't want that to become my default pattern.

Thank you all again! May we all age well and have fun doing so!
posted by metarkest at 5:16 AM on May 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I think that is a bit of stereotype but not without reason.
I'm 65 and I consider several of the people I know who are my age to be more than a bit "stuffy".
They say you get more conservative as you get older but I seem to be heading in the opposite direction. Exercise helps keep me young, I do yoga twice a week which flexes everything and therefore I hope the brain benefits a bit as well. I have a sex life so I am not physically frustrated and cranky.
Curiosity as mentioned up thread also keeps the mind active. I think many elder people sort of shut down and shrink into their confort zone and don't really want to deal with anything new or different. The company you keep is also a reflection on who you are. A large section of my friends are not only younger than me but also activists, which appeals to me and I admire them for the strength and courage of their convictions and their determination to right social wrongs. It makes me learn about what they are fighting. As this is all in a fairly new language to me that itself is a challenge which keeps me open because to communicate I need people to be patient with me and if I am a grumpy old fart that isn't going to happen.
Also at my age I have no fucks left to give so whilest I might not be cranky I might be seen as eccentric !
posted by adamvasco at 5:37 PM on May 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: The poet Heather McHugh recently posted something on Facebook that doesn't directly answer your question, but is likely to be useful anyway. She made it publicly accessible, so I'm going to quote it here:
For years I argued against the knee-jerk (or recriminatory) assumption that writers must be activists in any ordinary political sense. I still recoil from the notion. But I also have to refine the terms of my resistance a bit. All conscientiousness, scrupulously embodied, becomes an art; and vice versa. Moreover, since all taxonomies, once they become invisible shapers of our assumptions about what IS, are corrosive to the imagination (which is after all a conscientious openness to the many senses of experience), I ultimately found I had more to learn outside academia than in it; that every word IS an act (as Rilke said); that the "disabled" ones I encountered were the extenders (not the blunters) of their caregivers' understandings of human life; that the breadth of my own capacity for love was greatened, not impoverished, by post-sexual life; and so on. Among the many undersung truths of our human journey: advanced age (despite its baggage of aches and hobbles) is a time of such fundamentally changed perspectives that it brings liberations unimaginable beforehand. And profound philosophical joy-- a term I'd previously have dismissed as mere oxymoron. In fact the kick (that comes with age) for spirit and body (both at once) is a revelation.
posted by tangerine at 1:31 AM on May 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I recently heard (second hand) some words of wisdom from a woman in her 80's in a nursing home: "Some people pickle sour, some pickle sweet."

How true!
posted by thaths at 3:17 AM on May 4, 2016 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you all again! The tips so that I can "pickle sweet" are so very appreciated!
posted by metarkest at 6:47 AM on May 12, 2016

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