This book is from a series of collection of books published under The School of Life foundation. The School of Life has been set up by Alain de Botton, which is basically a platform for what he calls an “emotional education.” The School of Life explores life’s big questionsI had recently read and reviewed his The School of Life: An Emotional Education and he basically covers all those things that children need to be taught- such as how to express our emotions.
I had picked up several of these little books, and one of them is How to Age. This is written by Anne Karpf, who is a medical sociologist, a writer and an award winning journalist. In a short book (142 pages), Karpf shares with us her understanding and insight into ageing, backed with evidence and examples. It’s not a self help book at all, but more like a philosophical essay on exploration of age.
Fear of Ageing
The book basically addresses our concerns and worries about ageing. We all live in a world where people are trying to hold on to their youth. We don’t want to grow old, and have wrinkles and bad skin. We look for ways to maintain those youthful looks. We are scared of growing old, which is otherwise known as gentrophobia- the fear of ageing.
The writer explores this fear of ageing and where it comes from, and why we collectively fear it. One of the things she brings up is how the media has portrayed ageing as something where we supposedly become fragile and vulnerable, with sagging skin, and left to depend on others. In the Western culture, ageing also is shown as someone who ends up in a nursing home. So naturally, one begins to fear old age. Not to mention the obsession with wiping out wrinkles and using all sorts of products/ procedures to keep our youthful looks.
We all do this on our birthdays. We tend to hide our real age, or we joke about it. We may say a number that’s younger than our real age. We may joke about the number of candles on the cake. We may joke about about growing old. Behind all this is our fear of growing old.
Which is funny because as children, we all wanted to grow up. We couldn’t wait to get to university. We couldn’t wait to start driving. We couldn’t wait to be adults so we could be independent and marry and have sex and children. But funnnily enough, when we become adults, taking on a number of repsonsbolities, we desire to go back to our past reminiscing about our childhood, or college years.
Kerpf beautfilly shares with us how growing old can be a wonderful experience. There is enough research out there that men and women flourish and grow creatively as they grow older. By the time we are in our mid thirties, we are more or less settled and are sure of what we want in life. This allows us to explore ourselves and pick up jobs/ tasks that help us flourish.
There is an interesting chapter on what ageing means for men and for women. Men grow old and are deemed handsome and mature (Paul Newman, George Clooney etc) and women are considered more beautiful when they maintain their youthful looks. Why do we have this disparity of concept of ageing in genders is something the writer explores really well.
I really related to the part where the writer talks about how so many people hit the jackpot in their late age. So it’s never too late to do what you are passionate about. I mean, I myself quit my full time paying job at the age of 41 to pursue a career in psychotherapy. Making that huge shift in my career was a massive leap of faith- with many questioning me whether I should be changing my career in my 40s. Today, as I am working full time as a therapist, I let me work speak for myself and people now come up to me asking me how I am so satisfied about my life!
How to Age will help you understand your self as a human being, whose natural progression is to age. There is nothing to be worried about. Growing old gracefully is a beautiful experience. There is a short chapter on death at the end, which merely reminds us that when we keep in mind that we are going to die one day, we can learn to live better lives today. It’s a simple formula, but a deeply effective one.
In these uncertain times of Covid-19, we are seeing young people also die of the virus. There is no gaurantee of how long we will live, but there is no harm in making each day count to live our lives each day to the maximum, with happiness and peace.