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I don’t know you well enough to say what might make you happy in later life. I’m not even sure I know myself well enough to make the grand pronouncement of what will make a golden year glorious.

The place, the people, the activities – all those choices are personal. One person wants to build rooster weather vanes in the garage and another wants to cruise the coast of Greece.

One woman collects china teacups at garage sales for her eBay business while her mate may be on the back deck chanting to Buddha. As I said, it’s personal, which is just the way it should be – older people finding their own way to their passions.

But I can tell anybody- I mean anybody over 50 – how to be unhappy. Guaranteed. Follow these directions and you will hate growing older, will feel sorry for yourself and earn the Nobel Prize for crankiness.

Recipes for crankiness

Keep thinking that you should be able to do at 50, 60 or 70 what you could do physically at 20. Push yourself beyond the limits of your present body. Bang those foot and knees onto the pavement as you run. Garden all day in the sun when it’s 95 in the shade. And then be angry with yourself that your body can’t do what it used to could.

Don’t grant yourself permission to take it easy, go at a slower pace or take naps. Naps are for sissies. Set yourself up to follow the daily routine of the 30-year-old you. Plan at least four events a day and go to them whether or not you feel like it.

Compare yourself to the physically gifted older people you read about in the papers – to the woman in her 70’s who finished the Ironman and to Granny D who hiked across the country. Expect the same performance of yourself, this in spite of the fact that you were never a world-class athlete.

Never ask for help in any demanding physical task. What are you, a weenie? Haul the decorative rocks into the garden. Get up on the roof to attack the leaves. If you fall, Medicare will pay for it.

Spend meaningful time in front of the mirror doing wrinkle inspections. Also spend $70 dollars on a jar of cream that promises youth. Repeat as not necessary. Go under the knife to correct sags until your eyebrows are lifted into your hairline or people mistake you for Joan Rivers. Refuse to go on trips because it will upset your Botox injection schedule. Have a mini-breakdown every summer about the fresh crop of liver spots on your face and hands.

Dress like you did in the ’60s. Wear the same make-up. Keep the same hair-do. Say “groovy” a lot. Dismiss all new music as trash. Hold on to those bell-bottom standards of yore. They were good enough for the Beatles. They’re good enough for you.

Imagine that your body can handle the same drugs – recreational or prescribed – at the same levels. Ditto for alcohol. Surely your liver would not let you down after all those years of service doing your de-tox.

Expect your children and grandchildren to have time to pay you lots of attention. After all, you are the family matriarch or patriarch and you will be amply rewarded for your services to the family in this lifetime.

Words for the wise

Those are just a few ways we older people can sabotage our later years. Unrealistic expectations are probably the core issue here. Yes, we should have great goals for ourselves when it comes to using these bonus years – the 30 or 40 extra years granted to us by medical advances – but maybe we should whittle down the expectation that we are who we used to be at 20. And thank the gods that we are not. If I were the same person now that I was then, I would be so busy making inappropriate alliances and bum decisions, I wouldn’t have time to make my rooster weather vanes in the garage.


The author of four non-fiction books, gerontologist Mel Walsh has a new book of advice for the 50+ woman: “Hot Granny,” published by Chronicle Books. Write melwalsh@melwalsh.com. More info at http://www.melwalsh.com

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