En español | It's not that Wendy Lustbader isn't aware of the challenges of age, from loneliness to physical infirmity. It's just that she believes that the joys of youth are overrated, and the psychological gains achieved by those in midlife and beyond receive too little attention.
See also: Excerpt from Life Gets Better.
With Life Gets Better: The Unexpected Pleasures of Growing Older, the 57-year-old, Seattle-based gerontological social worker, professor and author aims to add a positive spin to the cultural conversation on aging. Drawing on her own experiences and those of her clients and friends, as well as other sources, she argues that the burgeoning of "inner freedoms" can make growing older surprisingly rewarding.
Her new book, she writes, is meant as "a counterbalance to the negative and stultifying stereotypes about aging that constrain everyone's spirit." In lyrical and meditative prose, she elucidates the effects of gratitude, loss, spirituality and generosity, and stresses the importance of seeking new challenges and intimate relationships. "The answer to death," she writes, "is to live more heartily."
The AARP Bulletin talked to Lustbader about Life Gets Better.
Q. What inspired the book?
A. I've spent the last 30 years of my life in the company of elders. It was really their stories about their lives having gotten better internally as they got older that impressed me. The other thing was the beautiful vibrancy I saw of elders who, even with compromised physical situations, were able to make the most out of their lives.
Q. You note that, to some younger people, it seems that "later life is composed of interludes between disasters." Isn't there some truth to that?
A. It's actually true that elders have more bereavements as people in their own age groups begin to die off, and the physical calamities are real and difficult to deal with. But what we can't see is what is most interesting. We can't see the way people are growing in their confidence, in their understanding of life, and even in their ability to get through hard times. We also don't see how life becomes more and more precious as we become more aware of the ending, and so we live in a more vibrant fashion.
Q. What other misconceptions are there about aging?
A. Younger people think older adults aren't having sex, and that is a huge myth. There's plenty of sexual activity going on and lots of joy attached to it. If we manage to be with a partner over a long duration, intimacy only gets sweeter. Other misconceptions are pretty broad — younger people thinking it's pretty uninteresting to be older, when really it's quite a lively time of life. It's older people who are ready to live their dreams.