Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Will You Change the World with the Way You Age?

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Will You Change the World with the Way You Age?

Article excerpt

One of the things I love about covering the way we grow older is that it requires a constant awareness of the future. When you think about it, aging is progress: You're moving forward in time, changing the world around you according to the way you gray.

I spent three days recently at Columbia University in New York with 25 fellow journalists in this field, listening to prominent academics and activists discuss the future of aging. The annual Age Boom Academy is a joint project of the Columbia Aging Center and its journalism school, designed to help us pay attention to where this unprecedented worldwide longevity bonus might be steering us all.

One very interesting moment came when a nationally known broadcaster asked a question of Ursula Staudinger, a life-span psychologist who directs the new Aging Center. Staudinger asked the journalist how old she was. Suddenly the room pulsed with an embarrassed silence.

Gently, Staudinger offered up her own chronological age: 54. This brought a flustered admission that the journalist was in her "late 50s."

Staudinger took the awkward exchange as an opportunity to talk about the concept of "felt age." She cited work by Yale psychologist Becca Levy, who found a seven-year survival difference among elders, according to their own positive or negative perceptions of old age.

"How old we feel imprints itself on how we act and experience old age," Staudinger said. "You either want to get into your own old age or you don't, and it plays out dramatically."

She proposed a thought experiment that helps people see their time spent on the planet in a less terrifying light. Instead of obsessing about your own chronological age -- a measure that varies widely among individuals -- "think about the historical year you were born," she suggested, "and immediately your associations will change."

This ability to view your life-span as a chunk of history does more than help you get over yourself. It draws your attention to what is happening in the world as a result of our longer lives. …

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