I want to start with a large thank you to the readers of Sixty and Me who, albeit unknowingly, helped hugely with the book I recently published, The Granny Who Stands on Her Head.
My book is about liking being old, which I do, but I posted an article on this site about whether we would, conversely like to be young again. And why? And how young would we like to be?
There was a very large number of responses to this issue, some of which I used in my book, using only first names to retain privacy.
My special thanks to all the women whose first names appear next to the quotations at the end of this article.
One needs to consider the different ages in turn.
Some people say that childhood represents the happiest years, when we are completely carefree and responsible for nothing much at all.
Circumstances differ, of course, but for most people it is said to be a time when we simply have to get up in the morning, get ourselves to school, play with our friends and, perhaps, do the odd chore.
Personally, I think childhood is greatly over-rated. For some, it may have been an easy and enjoyable time, but it can also be a time of great stress.
You don’t understand the world, you don’t know where you are going in life, your ‘friends’ can be difficult and sometimes even bullies. Worst of all, you don’t understand yourself – neither your strengths nor your weaknesses.
Some people look back and see only the positive. But I had a fair number of problems myself with childhood and watched as the same arose for my children and grandchildren in turn. I would not go back to childhood for the world.
Moving forward, becoming a teenager is undoubtedly exciting, as you begin to explore the wider world and its possibilities. You become much more aware of other people, as well as yourself and your place among your friends and others. You begin to wonder where you are heading in life and what you need to do to get there.
Perhaps you feel very popular and self-confident, but I suspect this is true for only a minority. Adolescence and its aftermath represent a time of such angst that it is hard to think that many people would want to go back there.
Once you are past the worst of adolescence, life does become a little easier. You have begun to settle into a profession or job of some kind. You are exploring personal relationships, perhaps choosing a partner and having children.
You may have moved to a new area because of your job or relationships. Yes, it is exciting. A lot of new joys. A new partner or husband. A new baby or two.
Gaining new responsibilities at work. Beginning to get a sense of yourself. Yes, yes, yes. But as I look back, I also see a lot of problems.
The period of one’s 20s is particularly problematic. You are officially declared to be an adult, but frequently don’t feel or act like one. It’s not easy to find a permanent place to live and, indeed, many these days continue to live with their parents.
More difficult still, a lot of people feel the pressures of not really knowing where they are heading in terms of a career or even partner. If they have chosen something to do, they wonder whether they will be good enough.
Some may also question whether their chosen partner is, in fact, the right one. For many, it is again an unsettling time.
It all becomes a bit easier in your 30s. Some issues have clarified themselves for good or ill. But you see yourself approaching the big 40 and wonder whether you have done well enough.
And everyone is absurdly busy and pulled in many directions – the search for promotion, the needs of the partner and kids. Often, people find that even their friends are too busy to talk. Is that so great?
At least by the time people are in their ‘middle years’, they know themselves reasonably well.
They have begun to learn how to pursue their strengths and to live with their limitations. Women have finished having all the children they will ever have, which may be seen as a joy or a relief or the source of considerable unhappiness.
But we do know where we are in this respect.
They may also be coping with menopausal symptoms, which may be no difficulty at all or be the cause of major problems.
And they may be faced with the famous twin pressures of adolescent children and ageing parents, both of whom need their attention. For some, this can be the most stressful period of their lives.
These are all very individual matters, which vary with the trajectory of any one person’s life and that of those around them. But in my own view, the older we become, the better it gets.
The early years are hard, the middle ones somewhat better. The 50s were great, the 60s were just fine and the 70s have not gone downhill or at least not much.
Not everyone will agree. A lot will depend on the luck of good health and good relationships, neither fully under our control.
And, of course, if we could be an earlier age with the confidence and wisdom we have now, the answers would be different. But that would be cheating.
Altogether, there were roughly 215 readers’ comments to my article. Of these, 122 expressed a clear preference for a particular age, with the following responses:
sixties & over 51
In sum, 71 people (58%) indicated that they would prefer to be younger, while 51 (42%) were very happy where they were. Most of the latter were in their 60s but a small number were older, including one or two in their 80s.
This was not a random sample, but I thought it was interesting nonetheless.
Although the majority said they would prefer to be younger, many of the comments were more nuanced than the simple numbers suggest.
Many noted they would like to be younger, but with the knowledge and confidence that they have now, so perhaps they should really be excluded from the count.
Some simply wanted to enjoy their children’s childhoods all over again. And some would like to be younger to enable them to make better decisions about their life. In other words, this was not such a clear vote for being younger per se.
And there were a great number of satisfied older women, who were keen to explain why. Some just seemed to feel very settled with their lives:
“For me, being 60 is perfect. I realise we all have our stories and our season. I believe my season is 60 and I intend to enjoy it.” (Karen)
“I love, LOVE the age I am now. At almost 65, I’m active, wiser, making better life choices and loving retirement.” (Debra)
“I would not want to look or be younger. My age, grey hair and wrinkles are perfect!” (Barbara)
Some talked of seeing their later years as a natural progression:
“Love being 67. I worked hard to get here happy and healthy – planning to retire in a few months and enjoy the next season of life.” (Carrie)
“I am just fine with the age that I am, 67. I have had a colourful, eventful, heart-breaking, rewarding and amazing life so far. I wouldn’t change a thing.” (Shelly)
“I would like my body to be young, sans the creaking, the loss of strength and perhaps a few wrinkles, but I prefer to be the fine wine aged to perfection that I have become.” (Carmela)
“I quite like myself at age 86. Every year has more to offer and we never know what the future has in store.” (Brenda)
And some welcomed their much greater self-esteem:
“No, I wouldn’t want to be younger. It took me a long time to get where I am mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. I would never go back. Love my life at 66.” (Judi)
“It has taken me 62 years to truly start loving myself and be excited about my plans for the future… It is my time now and it is all good.” (Patricia)
“Good gosh, NO. My younger life was a mess, thanks to me. Older and hopefully wiser. I have no desire to go back.” (Lee)
“I’m finally figuring myself out. Why would I want to go backwards?” (Dianne)
These comments accord with a number of surveys undertaken to examine happiness at different ages.
To list just one, a major study of 300,000 adults across the UK found that life satisfaction, happiness and a general feeling that life was worthwhile peaked among men and women aged 65-79 (Office for National Statistics, Measuring National Well-being in the UK, 2016).
These feelings did drop off among those over the age of 80, however, possibly arising from poorer health and greater loneliness.
So what can we conclude from all these views?
Every life has its own particular course – its peaks and troughs, its joys and tribulations. Whether the total adds up to a happy life or a disappointed one cannot be predicted in advance, arising from so many differing events over the course of our years.
But it does seem that a lot of us do come to the view – taking the bad with the good – that being older has much to recommend it. It is not inevitably a difficult time.
There is much left to sample, roll around our mouths and savour. In the words of one of these women – “a fine wine aged to perfection.”
This is a cause for celebration.
Do you like being an older woman? If not, what age would you like to be? Why?
Tags Getting Older