April 29, 2013

Aging into Happiness. ~ Thomas Detras

One day I noticed an odd-looking mark had appeared on my temple.

Being an Arizona resident, I am mindful of the dangers the unrelenting sun can present. So I consulted a top authority—the internet. The search sufficiently frightened me into reason and a subsequent visit to my doctor declared it to be seborrheic keratosis, a benign skin growth that is common in people as they age.

“Nothing to worry about,” my doctor said.

He told me these things come and go as we get older. He was correct, as it subsequently disappeared a few months later. However, that wasn’t the diagnosis that gripped me that day. It was his other observation that burrowed into my psyche.

I had the onset of OA, or old age.

OA has no cure. Experts feel that OA’s progression can be slowed, but the prognosis is always grim. Seborrheic keratosis is often humorously referred to as ‘the barnacles of old age.’

I don’t see the humor in that.

I don’t feel old. My brain feels 35, although my driver’s license says 30 years older. But, it did get me thinking about how to deal with this new terrain.

Many of you readers are a healthy bunch who eat right, exercise, do yoga and run marathons. The last thing you all are thinking about is the end game. So while I have yet to resolve all of my own issues, there is one particular insight I have stumbled across that may help prepare the young and beautiful for the aging experience.

Turning 60 finds you tiptoeing through a minefield of lurking maladies. Some minor, some major—but they’re out there. I’ve already stepped on a major one but was able to fortunately defuse it in time. But, the indomitable spirit trudges me forward through the tulips; maybe a bit slower so I may enjoy the color, the aroma, the warm breeze and the beautiful sunset.

Studies have shown that the happiest year in a human’s life is 74-years-old. Imagine that. At age 70 you are as happy as you were at 15, around the teenage years of greatest discovery.

By the way, the unhappiest years are 40 to 45. Good news for many of you folks—it gets better for you from now on.

What makes these septuagenarians so happy? The research says that people that age finally accept who they are for what they are. They don’t care what people think anymore. But, I don’t think that is the key. I think it is more than self-acceptance.

My father lived to be 96. Visiting him in New York state one of his last summers, we sat on a patio taking in the beautiful summer evening. He wanted to know what car I rented (just like Henry Fonda asked Jane in On Golden Pond). I told him a Mercury Gran Marquis. The car sat parked about 50 feet away from us.

I pulled out the keys and showed Dad the remote lock fob and said, “Watch this.”

I remotely locked, unlocked and turned the alarm on and off. Dad, with his Polish accent, said with a smile and twinkle in his eyes,

 “How about dat!”

It occurred to me that I had heard that expression from my father several times throughout the years. That sense of wonderment and discovery was something my father never lost. Every step on his journey, he eagerly looked forward to a ‘how about dat’ moment—much like the curious 15-year-old that shares the same happiness quotient as the septuagenarians.

Each time I find myself saying, “how about dat,” I think of my father—who may have discovered the key to happiness and longevity.

Every new step through his minefield, whether landing on safe or sorry soil, was an adventure for him.

That’s my septuagenarian advice, such as it is: to look for the new thing in everyday life and raise it to the joyous level of discovery.

Something I hadn’t realized until my old age barnacle made me listen a little deeper to my father’s words. How about dat?


Thomas Detras is a former corporate executive enjoying the slower pace of life that retirement has to offer with his bride of 46 years. He counts his good fortune to have his son and daughter live nearby where he can stir debate in current events and enjoy his two grandchildren. At the well-intentioned, albeit possibly misguided, bidding of his daughter, he has redirected his technical and business writing skills into storytelling to fend off the temptation to listen to his bones rust while watching ballgames and reruns of Matlock.


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Asst. Ed: Amy Cushing
Ed: Kate Bartolotta

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