Aging is a Laughing Matter
As an optimist, I think positively about aging. When I ask people in my presentations to “raise your hand if you’d like to get older,” there are three different reactions. Some raise their hands right away; some shake their heads. Most people slowly raise their hands, saying, “Well, it’s better than the alternative!”
My response, “I think we all want to get older—we just want to age well.” There’s always consensus at that point. And aging well usually includes a healthy sense of humor.
If you Google “jokes about aging,” you’ll see volumes of story jokes, and one-liners like these, under the heading, “Benefits of Being 60”:
- No one expects you to run—anywhere.
- Your eyes won’t get too much worse.
- Things that you buy now won’t wear out.
- You and your teeth don’t sleep together.
- You are no longer viewed as a hypochondriac.
- People call you at 8 p.m. and ask, “Did I wake you?”
- Your joints make the same noises as your coffee maker.
- Your supply of brain cells is finally down to a manageable size.
- You try to straighten out the wrinkles in your socks and discover you aren’t wearing any.
- Your secrets are safe with your friends because they can’t remember them anyway.
Shopping for birthday cards always brings a smile:
However, does 60 seem a little young for all of these jokes about dementia, incontinence, and needing walkers? And even if we re-read the above one-liners, substituting “Benefits of Being 80” (instead of 60), do we really want to make these jokes about people who are 80?
Sometimes media messages—which we often parrot—don’t make it easy for us to believe that we can age well and that we are aging well. With all of the ads for anti-aging products and cosmetic surgeries, we have come to think of time as an enemy instead of symbolizing continued growth, perspective, experience—and yes, even wisdom.
While we are learning to be careful about stereotyping people who are differently abled related to hearing, eyesight, mobility, or other special physical or mental capabilities, for some reason we still think it is okay to make fun of these challenges because the person is over 50.
We often hear people use adjectives for older adults that we would never use for a much younger person. It would sound odd if we described a 40-year-old man as “spry” instead of athletic, or “alert” instead of “intelligent.” If a younger woman is vivacious or dynamic, we wouldn’t say, “she’s still with it” or “she’s so vital.”
We also seem to think it is okay to infantilize our elders. In my work, I often hear people say, “Dad is so stubborn. He still eats eggs and he just had a heart attack!” This reduces a grown man to a tantrum-throwing little boy. My dad used to say, “If I can’t eat what I want when I’m 90, when can I?!” Let’s remember that these same older adults might need help with technology, but they did teach us to eat, talk and use the toilet.
To be fair, aging is different than it was 75 years ago when many of these jokes were written. (I have copies of jokes from 1945 that my dad passed around at parties.) “Old” is different than it was 100 years ago when the average life expectancy was 53. Now more of us work productively until 75, 80, and beyond.
What does 65 look like?
“Whistler’s Mother” was painted in 1871, when she was 65. The photo of Tina Turner was taken when she was about 65. Perhaps we just haven’t spent enough time replacing the old stereotypes with new perspectives.
Is 60 the new 40? Or do we just have a new 60? When people say “You look great for 64,” I reply, “Well … this is what 64 looks like!” I like Carla Hall’s comment: “Do we not value our ‘seasoned’ citizens enough to let them look their age?”
Framing a new conversation about aging
By now, some of you are already framing a new conversation about aging. Here are some more positive one-liners:
- Eventually you will reach a point when you stop lying about your age and start bragging about it.
- One of the many things no one tells you about aging is that it is such a nice change from being young.
- You don’t stop laughing when you grow old; you grow old when you stop laughing. –George Bernard Shaw
A few healthy aging birthday cards:
A final joke:
A 60-year-old man went to the doctor for a check-up.
The doctor said, “You are in great health! All your tests are good. And for our records, may I ask, at what age did your father die?”
The 60-year-old patient said, “I didn’t say my father died! My father is 80. He skis, runs marathons and is in excellent health!”
“Oh, that’s wonderful! Well then, for our records, at what age did your grandfather die?”
“I didn’t say my grandfather died! My grandfather is 100, teaches dance lessons and plays golf four days a week. In fact, he’s getting married next month!”
“Why would your 100 year old grandfather want to get married?”
“I didn’t say he WANTED to get married!”
Maybe it’s time we talked about what we want the media to stop saying about older generations. And what we wish the media would start saying!
What will your legacy be around aging? Everything we say about aging is what your children, nieces and nephews, grandchildren and others around us will learn about aging. Will we leave future generations with complaints about aches, pains and the things we can’t do? Or will we talk about what we’re accomplishing, learning and teaching?
Few of us know ahead of time how to age well—we’ve never been this age before! Let’s do it while we laugh and with a positive perspective on growing older.
“Age is not a four-letter word!”—Dori Gillam
Contributor Dori Gillam manages Positive Endings and is a Certified Hospice Worker and Heartwork Facilitator. Her presentations and workshops on aging well and completing end-of-life planning include having delicate and pragmatic conversations with loved ones about death and dying. Learn more about Dori’s work at www.dorigillam.com.