CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith for the Years of Winter… ©
Sally Cone, the wife of my old university roommate, Tom, took Tom’s mother to the library. Mae walked up to the desk with a book she had brought with her and renewed it. “I thought you just read that book,” Sally said. “Oh, I did,” Mae said, “but I can’t remember it, and it’s my favorite book, so I just keep re-reading it.” Well, why not?
An irascible old lady who was known for her temper and rudeness announced to her grandson that she didn’t have an enemy in the world. That surprised him. “Did you make amends with all those people you offended, Grandmother?” he asked. “No, I outlived all the bastards,” she replied.
Research shows that as you get older you get happier. Someone added to that: “It’s amazing what a little memory loss can do for you.”
Is that why we get happier as we age? Because we can’t remember the sad things? Because we outlived the people who were difficult for us?
Of course, not all of us get happier as we age. There’s some truth to the axiom that we get more like ourselves as we age. If you’ve always been miserable, you’ve got a good chance of being miserable in old age, too. In addition, age can bring some great losses, losses that depress us and make us lonely. That’s not a happy state.
In general, though, most of us get happier in old age. That is counter-intuitive. What do old people have to be happy about?
Is it because we’re going to die soon, or at least sooner, going to get away from all the miseries of life, “leave this vale of tears?” Maybe, for some, at least.
Some people would say it’s just physical. Scientifically, we are happier because the brain shrinks. That sounds counter-intuitive, too, but it does give credence to the old saying that Ignorance is bliss.
The geezerpital lobe of the brain shrinks with age, in great part because of stress. Stress hormones gang up on the poor old brain and it just shrivels up. (The actual name for the geezerpital lobe, if I remember correctly, is the interior cingulated cortex, but I think geezerpital is more descriptive.)
Apparently we get happier as we age either because we have less stress or the stress hormones give us Alzheimer’s and we can’t remember why we were unhappy.
Unfortunately, the geezerpital is the lobe that controls unacceptable speech. That’s why old people so often say out loud things that younger people would only think.
I have a priest friend whose mother lived with him, so when he was invited out, she was invited, too. One night they were at a parishoner’s house watching vacation pictures. This was in the day of slides projected on a screen, so the room was dark. Into the darkness, Bob’s mother said, “This is SO boring.” Later he asked her why she had said such a rude thing. “Why, nobody can hear me in the dark,” she said. Brain shrinkage had even caused her to forget just how the senses work. She was happy saying whatever came to mind.
(Now that I am getting close to the age she was then, I don’t think this story is nearly as hilarious as I used to.)
So what is it? Why are we, in general, happier as we age? Is it that we have less stress, or just because we are more forgetful?
I suspect it’s because it’s our last chance. We’ve known all along that the point of life is to be happy, but we’ve looked for happiness in all the wrong places, in the places that have given us stress. Will Rogers used to say that “A person is just about as happy as he makes up his mind to be.”
Remember: It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.
I tweet as yooper1721.
Will actually said “A man is just about as happy…” but he meant everybody.