Column - Thoughts on the big 5-0
In a few short months, I'll be turning 50.
I usually don't get worked up over those birthdays ending in "0" but this one may be a little different.
It seems so "old" and it seems like it got here so quickly. It's just too sudden. A half century. Scary.
Luckily, I found some comfort in a new study that I read in a Star Tribune health column by reporter Warren Wolfe. After surveying more than 340,000 adults aged 18 to 85, a 2008 Gallup poll suggests that people start feeling a lot better (younger?) after they reach age 50.
The poll found that in general, feelings of well-being are pretty high among older teenagers. No surprise there. But then those good feelings start to slide dramatically through age 25 as young people become more stressed and worried. Their emotions, the poll suggests, then meander a bit for the next 10 years and then drop off again until age 50.
I liked that part about "until age 50." That's when a mystical turnaround is supposed to happen and you start feeling better about your age and life in general. By age 75, Wolfe reported, you may be feeling like a teenager again, or at least in your sense of well-being.
The even better news: These feelings keep getting better until at least age 85.
Wow! After 50, I've got 35 years to feel like a teenager all over again.
A surprising part of the research: The pattern of well-being wasn't affected by unemployment, lack of a partner, children at home or gender.
The researchers also found that stress and anger declined sharply from the early 20s, worry built until middle age and then dropped. Sadness was fairly steady throughout adulthood and feelings of enjoyment and happiness dropped slightly until the mid-50s but after that (for me, just five years from now), people's happiness level rose to previous highs and this continued until around age 70, where it pretty much leveled off.
This is still encouraging news! It means I could have another 20 years or so (God willing) of feeling better every year.
Why the sudden turnaround after age 50? Researchers were pretty much guessing but they said it could be because older people gain "increased wisdom and emotional intelligence...[and] are more effective at regulating their emotions than young people."
I just hope it's that and not senility.
Don't get me wrong. I'm a very happy person who is blessed with a wonderful wife, a great family, awesome friends, a satisfying job, good health and more. But that 50 is looming out there, impossible to ignore or forget.
That leads me to another thing I'm not looking forward to when I hit the 5-0 mark: The cracks about being "over the hill," getting senile, going bald, needing Viagra or having one foot in the grave. Why does turning 50 get such a bleak reception in the U.S.? Why are there black balloons, endless birthday cards mocking your age and gleeful wisecracks from so-called friends, family and co-workers? (I know - now I'm sounding just like a crabby old person.)
Turning 50 should be celebrated not with harbingers of death and cruel jokes but with respectful amazement, wonder and gratitude toward someone who has lived so long and acquired so much knowledge. (OK, now I know I'm going overboard, but at least I can tell.)
I guess when you boil it all down, turning 50 is something to cry or laugh over. I'd rather laugh, especially with all those years of well-being and happiness that the survey says are waiting out there.
Maybe the billionaire oil tycoon John Paul Getty had it right when he said, "Age doesn't matter, unless you are cheese."
"It's Our Turn" is a weekly column that rotates among members of the Echo Press editorial staff.