You don't get older, you get better -- really

Mon Aug 29, 2011 5:02am EDT
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By Elaine Lies

TOKYO (Reuters) - Jokes about creaky knees, thinning hair and spreading -- or vanishing -- waistlines have long been an inevitable, if unwelcome, part of watching the birthdays pile up.

But it shouldn't be that way, argues Wendy Lustbader, who maintains that youth, with all its insecurities and confusion, is more of a burden than the golden age society says it is, with aging far from a gloomy decline.

"I'm so disgusted by the pervasive dread of aging that everyone has, and the constant joking about it and everybody looking at later life as if it's just a dead zone, with nothing going on," said Lustbader, a former social worker and author who herself is in her late 50s.

"But it's really the opposite. When you really get to know elders, when you hang out with them as much as I have, it's the elders who really feel bad for the young people because they have so much suffering to go through."

To illustrate this somewhat unusual view, in the centerpiece of her recent book "Life Gets Better" Lustbader relates the story of telling a group of fellow travelers on a tour bus, most of whom were young, that they shouldn't worry because "these are the worst years of your lives."

Looks of obvious relief greeted this, and several of the young people later came up to her and confessed to having felt depressed and suicidal, but that her words helped.

"We are just in such dread, we just think this must be the good part and what's coming later must be terrible. Lots of things get hurt with that attitude," she said.

Lustbader argues, through a series of real-life examples from her years as a social worker and therapist, research findings and personal experience, that as people age they let go of a lot of the worries of their youth.   Continued...

<p>Ayako Shizo (C), aged 85, taps a therapeutic robot named Paro as she sits with other residents at the Suisyoen retirement home in Iwaki, Fukushima prefecture, July 28, 2011. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon</p>