First off, don’t get all wrapped up in the headline. I’m a long way from 68. So shut up.
The hed — that’s a journalism word there — is from a John Mayer song about getting older, Stop This Train. The lyric goes like this:
Had a talk with my old man
Said “help me understand”
He said “turn sixty-eight”
A couple weeks ago, I wrote a piece for HowStuffWorks on growing older and what people think about it. Researchers at Columbia conducted a survey and found that about 17 percent of people want to die young. (Young being relative in this instance; they didn’t want to outlive a normal life expectancy, which was placed at 80 for this study.)
Most, of course, want to keep going well into old age. A good quarter want to try for 100 or more.
Still, it’s a little surprising that 1 in 6, roughly (don’t make me do math!), would just as soon call it quits when they hit 80. They’re afraid of creaky bones and dentures and kids that don’t call and failing eyesight and falling down and all that. For sure, none of that sounds particularly fun, I’d agree.
But the authors point out that many people underestimate their ability to handle those kinds of aging challenges. “[P]eople are generally able to adapt quite well to how their life circumstances change with age,” one of the authors told me.
I bring this up because my Mom just turned 84 last month, and this week I’m spending some time at the beach with my in-laws, who are both around 80, and my dear sister just turned the big 6-0 this summer, and a little brother just turned 50 and … yeah, dammit, I’m getting older, too.
There, you happy? Shut up already.
One of the takeaways from the Columbia study is this: How you expect old age to be is indicative of how you’ll be in old age. In other words, if you think negatively about old age, old age is more likely to suck.
This, of course, is true of most things. Not all. We get surprised once in a while. But, generally, if you go into something with a bad attitude, that affects your experience.
Another thing I learned from this study — this is something that’s been established by many other studies — had to do with PLE, or Preferred Life Expectancy, a real thing scientists measure. Get this: PLE is directly associated with how long you live.
In other words (you say “in other words” a lot in describing academic studies, I’ve found), if you think you’d like to die young — whatever age you figure young is — you probably will. Allow me to quote from my own piece, which quotes from their piece:
…[T]he fact that 17.1 percent believe that dying young is preferable to growing old is worth a look for one stunning and perhaps little-known fact about what the authors call preferred life expectancy (PLE). That is, PLE predicts actual mortality.
In terms young’uns can grasp, “there is a significant and meaningful relationship between how long people want to live and how long they actually live,” the authors say.
Me? Well me, because you won’t shut up about this, I’m going for 100. I’m not expecting to be hoisting up jumpers at 90. But, as I’ve told Mom many times, as long as someone’s around who’s willing to wheel me out into the sunlight on a nice fall day, as long as I have someone to talk to or a good book to read, as long as I can have a nice burrito a couple times a month, as long as the boy calls once in a while to check in and I know he’s OK … I’m good.
My PLE, right now, is sitting at about 105. And I’m reserving the right to adjust that baby upward.