21st August 2015 at 3:18pm
At a White House conference on ageing back in 1961, President John F. Kennedy challenged the delegates. Now that we had added “years to life” it was time to consider how we might add “life to years”.
With the baby boomers – those born between 1946 and 1964 – now hitting retirement age, it looks increasingly like the art of growing old gracefully has changed dramatically. We are now adding that “life to years”.
Breaking down the age barriers
Baby boomers represent the first generation where many people are finding that later life is their prime time. They don’t see increasing years as a time to wind down – the opposite in fact; this new generation are more active in all aspects of their life than their parents probably ever were.
“ You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” – C.S Lewis
The changing face of retirement
We’ve even seen the rise of the ‘Alpha Boomer’, the new kid on the block.
A term first coined in the US to describe their fastest growing demographic, Alphas enjoy the second-highest median income and are more likely to spend more money on goods, services and technology than any other age group. And research has shown that from a UK perspective, the 50-plus market is soon to be the biggest, richest and most influential in the country. As the post-war generation hit their 50s and 60s they may be racking up the miles but they carry with them much of the culture born of the swinging sixties – the vitality, alertness and freedom inherent of that time still courses through their veins. According to sociologist of ageing, Dr Chris Gillard, if the Alpha Boomers have anything to do with it, ageing will never be the same again.
Make sure and tune in for the second half
With life expectancy on the increase and a very good chance we may live to 100, 50 actually now marks the second half of life. And according to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, for the 50-somethings it’s a case of let the good times roll. They suggest people tend to start life happy only to feel their well-being decline in adulthood. Working long hours, raising a family, and having little free time are stress points, so it’s no wonder our sense of joy can wane. The good news is it appears that by the time we reach our 50s, happiness picks up again, reaching its peak at 85. For a satisfying ‘second half’, financial security helps, of course, and good health is crucial, but being psychologically prepared can be a great benefi t too. Traits these Alpha Boomers seem to have in abundance.
Retirement role reversals
And society and perceptions are changing as a result of these pioneering pensioners. Stereotypes have been reshaped and we’ve seen the barriers come down on many areas of popular culture once seen as a haven for the young and beautiful. The silver screen in particular has seen an epiphany – actors who often found certain roles closed to them once the years racked up are now finding they’ve more options than ever. Fashion, too, has seen something of a seismic change; models and designers no longer appear to dip out of vogue as a result of old father time.
And it’s been the birth of a new breed of celebrities, ones who refuse to let age wither them have acted as a catalyst for this culture shift: All hail the Alpha celebrity.
Here are a few examples of celebrities who have flouted convention and paved a path for others:
Arnold Schwarzenegger: Yes he’s back. 2015 saw the Terminator series continue with Arnie returning to the helm and saving the day at 68.
Sylvester Stallone: Sly at 64 first launched his action series, The Expendables; movies filled with actors (including himself) who previously may have been deemed in the twilight of their careers and certainly not testosterone fuelled heroes.
Clint Eastwood: The man with no name, at 70, took on a lunar challenge with three other greying bad boys – Tommy Lee Jones, 53, Donald Sutherland, 66, and James Garner, 72 – in Space Cowboys.
Kim Cattrall: Now 58 and best known for playing Sex and the City’s Samantha, she’s a woman that has certainly not let age slow her down. Cast as a siren in the hottest show on TV, she not only won fame and adoration for her part but has since won new fans and critical acclaim for her stage roles too.
Mick Jagger: Mick Jagger is still ‘jumpin jack flash’ at 71, high-kicking off a fresh Rolling Stones
tour in 2015.
Jerry Hall: Jerry, now 59, was still comfortable baring all in her fifties for the stage versions of The Graduate and Calendar Girls, and still fending off younger competition by winning modelling contracts for highend brands such as Chanel.
Vivienne Westwood: The original bad girl of fashion has never lost her edge and age has only appeared to hone it as she continues to produce popular collections at 74.
What’s clear is whatever you choose to do, getting older is not about being shy and retiring; it’s about being bold and brave and making the most of fresh opportunities. Take a leaf from the baby boomers’ book or a page out of the Alphas’ A list; by all means retire from work but not from life.
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