Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Last Laugh: Putting the Fun Back Into Aging

The Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki said, “Life is like stepping onto a boat that is about to sail out to sea and sink.” I have to confess, the older I get the more I see the humor in this because, as the old line goes, “It’s funny because it’s true.”

As our nation gets ever grayer there is more and more emphasis being placed on the process of getting older. Let’s be honest, a lot of the news is not only not funny, it’s downright frightening. Must it be this way? When did getting older become synonymous with getting serious? They say laughter is the best medicine. Who needs a good dose more than us whose bodies are falling apart, whose medicine cabinet increases with the number of candles on the birthday cake? It makes perfect sense that finding the fun in aging is essential to doing it well.
As a card carrying member of AARP, I find there are many things about getting older that strike me a funny. As a psychotherapist, who regularly sits with others who are also on the train to Oldsville, I find many people often miss the humor in life because they think the joke is on them. For these folks fun is something one grows out of and many cannot even remember the last time they had a good laugh.

Western culture, with its youth-addicted mindset that sees aging as an insult, only contributes to the ever-increasing morose view of what, in the rest of nature, is a necessary movement of the life cycle. It is not comedy when the most mature among us are marginalized and dealt with in polite tones of indifference? And how funny is it that today’s banner carriers of the Younger is Better crowd will be tomorrow’s consumers of social security benefits, brain training apps, and whatever new drug is getting ready to replace Viagra?

Rather than waiting for something to come along and tickle our arthritic funny bone, we can use our time-honored wisdom and bring fun back into our lives. The good news is being more lighthearted does not require more doing. Face it, getting old means having less energy so what’s the point in having to work harder; leave that for the young.
We can start by putting the brakes on some of things that are creating barriers between ourselves and experiencing joy. Some things that come immediately to mind include:
1. Stop trying to find your “purpose” in life. The apparent separation between “life” and “you” is simply a distortion of perception. You are life’s purpose and the attempt to find that which is already there is, quite frankly, somewhat comical.
2. Stop making lists of every body part that no longer works like it used to. It’s hard smile when your focus is on the fact that the muscles that make that happen are not as toned as they once were.
3. Stop talking about “The good old days.” Nothing spoils the fun of a present moment experience like still living in the past. Be honest, the “good old days” were filled with stress, worries, ulcers and headaches, whoopee!!
4. Stop reading books that tell you how to stay young. Despite what so and so best seller says aging is not an affront to nature and the notion that you’re doing it wrong is hysterical.
5. Stop comparing yourself to “the Joneses.” If you’re lucky, you’ve already forgotten who these people are anyway and, if not, realize that they’ve gotten older too.
Now that we’re no longer building those psychological barriers to having fun it’s time to get practical. First take this quick test:
When was the last time you had a really good laugh? If your answer was, “During the Carter administration,” you need an emotional Heimlich. So here goes:
1. Take out the old photo album and chuckle at the number of hair styles you’ve gone through and how at the time you thought “Damn, I look sexy!”
2. Put on an old TV series, preferably a drama, and guffaw at what we used to think of as good acting.
3. Go ahead and play that favorite tune from when you were an angst-driven young adult and giggle at how seriously you thought your life was back then.
4. Watch almost any movie involving aging actors and chortle and their attempts to keep up with their way too young sexual partners.
5. Pick up almost any magazine with a smiling senior celebrity on it, talking about how to stay young and smile back, realizing that with any good photo editor you too could look years younger.

The old adage of “He who laughs last, laughs the best” should be the mantra of a generation that has seen more than its share of tears and heartache. This does not have to mean that we stop being responsible and become old fools. It simply means that we’ve reached the point in our lives where a sense of humor can replace the failing senses of smell, taste, touch, sight and sound.

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