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70 is the New 40

The expression ‘life begins at 40’ comes from a book written in 1932 by Walter Pitkin, an American psychologist. The title of his book was Life Begins at Forty. It was written at a time of rapid increase in life expectancy.

The notion that ‘life begins at 40’ is a 20th century concept. Prior to that, it was more accurate to say that ‘death begins at 40’ as most people did not live much beyond that age.

By the 1930s, at the time the self-help book by Pitkin was written, life expectancy in western societies has increased as a result of improvement in the people’s quality of life. Thus, ‘life begins at 40’ becomes a catchphrase that people often use.

In 2017, Dr. Rubaiul Murshed quoted a new report by Cigna Insurance Services (UK) that life really begins at 60 because people are more physically and emotionally mature. Researchers are now saying that as we grow older, life activities do not end. In fact, we continue to learn something new and we become bolder and wiser.

But how about us who have just turned 70 or about to turn 70? Are our life’s best efforts behind us?

Funny, but to many, youth – or at least looking young regardless of age – connotes vitality and endless opportunities. It feels good when we are mistaken to be young. It even feels better if we always look young. Others would dye their hair to hide their age. Those who can afford undergo cosmetic surgery. A lady friend of mine now looks like a mannequin because she had her face cosmetically done.

None of us wants to get older probably because we worry about our physical health and the cost that goes with it. Many of us have experienced living with elderly relatives who suffer debilitating diseases. Their sufferings are unbearable. Age also affects our cognitive abilities. We’ve watched grandma forgetting where she had just put her eyeglasses. We’ve observed grandpa unable to recognize his grandchildren.

Fine, some of our body parts are beginning to deteriorate. Some functions have declined. We see our doctors with increasing frequency. The joke among my high school classmates is that, at our age, we are now in the pre-departure area. Some of us have already boarded the plane and are just waiting for the pilot to take off.

But old age is not as scary as we think it is. Harvard geriatrician Jeanne Wei explains that only certain functions may decline in an elderly; not necessarily the whole person and not all functions at the same rate. In fact, some functions like creativity, wisdom, and spiritual strength increase.

Among Asians the elders are considered sources of wisdom precisely because they have gone through life long enough to learn from its complexities. Their advice is sought for. Their opinion is solicited. Their knowledge about life is highly respected. This tells us that as we age, we excel in other functions.

Getting older is not a bad thing after all. Old age is how we feel about it. What is bad is if over the years we did not use our talents, remained unproductive, did not learn from experience, and remained a constant irritant to many people. And so, we struggle with a feeling of uselessness, without a sense of self, with unfulfilled dreams, and with no friends. Some feel this way early in life (mid-life crisis), others late in life.

Although I would like to think that at 70 I’ve probably gained many insights from my relationships with people, from my family, and from life, in general, there are still plenty of things to look forward to.

Before, I used to hear that life began at 40; then, it became that 60 is the new 40. Now I would like to up the ante; for me, life begins at 70.

For those who are turning 70, this means there’s still plenty of time left to examine our shortcomings, solve loose ends, follow our dreams, and consolidate our lives. In other words, at 70 or even at 80, life does not have to end because life has always been for the living.

If 70 is the new 40, I welcome my turning 70 with new vigor, aware that the second half of life is there for me to explore.

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