Column: Is there any joy in growing older?

Bob Ramsey

By Guest Columnist Bob Ramsey

A modicum of happiness and occasional pure joy should be part of everyone’s life. That’s why the tiny nation of Bhutan brags about its GNH (Gross National Happiness), rather than its GNP (Gross National Product).

And that is why the Scandinavian countries vie with each other to be named the World’s Happiest Nation. And it’s why our own Constitution guarantees the right to “the pursuit of happiness” for all of us. We all deserve some joy in our life. Even the “wrinklies.”

But the popular perception of growing older in America is pretty much joyless. It’s an image of isolation, loneliness, uselessness, irrelevance, boredom and infirmity. Not much joy there.

The truth is that the facts decry the perception. Actually, repeated research shows that the senior (seasoned) years can be the happiest period of life for many people because those in their 50, 60s, 70s and beyond have been around long enough and seen enough to understand where true joy comes from. With enough life experience, we learn that joy isn’t something we acquire; it’s something we create. This means the ultimate source of authentic happiness isn’t “out there” somewhere; it’s within us. And, like love and respect, it can only be received by giving it away.

The Dalai Lama teaches us, “If you want to make others happy, practice compassion. And if you want to make yourself happy, practice compassion.”

It’s what Mother Theresa described as “doing little things with great love.”

Author Anne LaMott explains it this way: “We start out a hot shot and work our way up to servant.”

Even if our individual horizons begin to shrink with age and the list of things we can’t do as well or as often or as fast or not at all grows longer, the trick is to focus on what we can do – especially for others.

In their insightful “The Book of Joy,” Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama identify eight pillars of true joy. These essential elements include qualities of the mind, such as perspective, humility, humor and acceptance, and qualities of the heart, such as forgiveness, gratitude, compassion and generosity. These qualities aren’t found in our portfolios, possessions, bank accounts, titles and awards; they are found only in ourselves and in our souls.

So, is there any joy in aging or not? The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu think so. They say, “Joy is the reward for helping others.”

My friend Betty Pickle may say it even better: “Don’t thank me. I get pleasure from helping others. If I can’t help another human being, I don’t have any reason to be on this earth.”

I might disagree with the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu, but I would never argue with a woman named Pickle.

So, “Scatter joy!” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

St. Louis Park resident Bob Ramsey is a lifelong educator, writer and advocate for Vital Aging. He can be contacted at 952-922-9558 or by email at [email protected]