NEVER TRUST A GERONTOLOGIST UNDER 70! Please hear me saying that playfully. However, I’ve done my 70 years and spent much of it studying and practicing “joyful aging,” so you can totally trust me on this next thing which could seem an absurd assertion.
Can I get a witness? I’m here to preach you the good news that in just one hour, you could start aging more joyfully. That’s the time it will take you to read this article or hear the podcast, think through the four simple elements of “The S.U.N.S. Joyful Living System” and apply the ideas to how you could personally optimize them.
Life involves a lot of choices you make. You can choose to add more joy to your life—forever. Absurd? Quoting Albert Einstein, “If at first an idea doesn’t seem absurd, then there’s no hope for it.”
When I began my professional exploration of gerontology, the study of aging, at the University of Alabama, I was in my 20’s. Like most people in their 20’s, I had vast areas of stupidity, but hey, I was young and in college, so like most yahoos that age, I was pretty sure I was a genius. Allow me another Einstein quote. When he was asked the difference in being stupid and being a genius, he said, “Genius has its limits.”
My 50 years of studying aging was propelled by two things. First, I was intrigued by senior-achievers like Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame. Sir? Ma’am? Would you like some gerontological data with that bucket of chicken? Secondly, since I had the unenviably uncommon experience of being born to parents who were both orphans, I had no grandparents, and I really, really, really wanted me some old, wise, joyful people like all my friends seemed to have.
Colonel Sanders started his fried chicken world domination when he was 67 years old. He had a popular chicken café’ in one of the Kentucky hollers, and he had his recipe with the “11 secret herbs and spices,” but he was almost in his seventh decade before he hatched the franchise.
That sort of thrilling optimization of a long life is what I thought I’d be learning in my studies which I officially began with the first gerontology certification program in the School of Social Work at Bama. Can I get a Rolllll Tide?! By the way, the University of Alabama has a great football team and sprinkled here and there some surprisingly good book learnin’.
Even though I trudged through the social work gerontology courses, the lectures were consistently on the negative, downer aspects of aging—that as we age, we become weaker, duller, poorer, sadder. It seemed the general perspective of the 50+ demographic was a “great gray mass of sameness.”
Even at that age, I knew groups were composed of individuals. Prior to being admitted into the gerontology program, I’d gotten a master’s degree in special education which philosophically appreciates each person as having a particular set of abilities. I had also glommed onto several surrogate grandparents who seemed to have eluded the “aging sameness” trap and amplified their unique eccentricities through their many years.
Few institutions had positive psychology programs at the time. Dr. Martin Seligman was a renegade and all of his serious research about positiveness aside, he was still getting little respect and was something akin to “The Rodney Dangerfield of the American Psychology Association.”
But I was young and already a “joy warrior,” a “gerontology gladiator.” I really wanted to know more about joy that could be yours and mine as we journey through life. How could we get and give more joy to the world, all the boys and girls?
I was working in product development, ideation and advertising and knew the American marketing of “youthful vigor” and age bias, but I really wanted to know about how to grab some more joy especially as I aged, and how I could share that positivity with others.
My undergraduate major was sociology, the study of groups such as the 50+ demographic, but I minored in art. I was throbbing with the inspiration that the great, American primitivist, Anna Mary Robertson Moses, known as “Grandma Moses,” had started her art career at 78. Art prodigies like Pablo Picasso, who could draw like his artist father practically before he was out of diapers, seemed a “dime a dozen,” but what about the “late bloomers” like Paul Cezanne, who Picasso credited as his forerunner in creating Cubism?
S.U.N.S ONE-HOUR JOY LIFT—For those of you who, apparently unlike me, have better or at least other things to do than spend much of 40 years searching for “The Fountain of Joyful Aging,” I’ve condensed all the often dry scientific and academic gerontology research into just four simple words, an acronym which spells “SUNS,” as in, we have many suns in our universe.
How dry is much of the academic writing on gerontology? I’ll let these one-liners from my dad answer that: “Son, what I was reading was so dry, I started spittin’ cotton. It was so dry the river started running just twice a week. It was so dry, the birds were using barbed wire to build their nests and trees were bribing dogs to pee on ‘em.”
I’m a simple fellow, a happy simpleton. Even though my speech can be yammering and loquacious and my thinking more pinball buckshot than sniper precise—I’m drawn to simplicity. I like the art of Henri Matisse, the music of The Beatles, the concision of one-liner wit and aphorisms.
In fact, over my adult life, I’ve written more than 5,000 one-liners, some as a paid writer, but most because I start every day, year after year, waking up, stretching a smile across my face, starting the coffee and writing a new-ish aphorism. Aphorism is just a la-dee-dah word for some one-liner truism that gets your brain started down some expected path and then hiccups to a surprise with a bit of wit.
By my latest count, I now have written 5,000+ one-liners often about the joys of aging. To paraphrase some other aphorist, “If you pick up a calf every day, eventually you can pick up some bull.”
I’m going to illustrate the four elements of “The S.U.N.S Joyful Aging System” with some of my one-liners which have gotten the most “likes” on Facebook—the Solomonic wisdom of our time.
If you were really bad as a child and have to sit through my talk again, you’ll get another wave of faves. I have 5,000+ just waiting to be pulled out of my, um, treasure trove.
Let’s get started on some S.U.N.S. seeking.
SMILE-MAKING is the thing we need for joy in life at any age. Seems like a blatant dose of the obvious, doesn’t it? Simply identify those things that make you smile (I encourage you to write them down) and then have those things regularly in your life. SMILE-MAKING is positive-thinking, and importantly, positive-doing.
“Home is a vessel for your joys,” is an aphorism I wrote which became a greeting card. It seems particularly, pardon this, at home in this conversation. For more happiness in your life, surround yourself with whatever are your personal joys. Not just objects which make you smile but also joy-giving people and activities. Only have those things in your life if they encourage you to think positive thoughts or using them fosters positive doing.
S.U.N.S. SMILE-MAKING ONE-LINERS
“Serious ain’t solemn.”
“Try to abide by this one rule: Have a good time all the time.”
“Have fun today if possible. Fun is always possible.”
“Someday we’ll look back on the days, smile…and plow into a parked car.”
“A long weekend could give us enough time to do all the nothing we want.”
“Guzzle the good stuff! Life is too uncertain.”
“Word to self about anything negative: Kwitchyerbellakin’.”
“You gotta THINK UP. Miracles happen. A glass of H20 could become a nice Merlot.”
S.U.N.S. UNITING—The “U” in our simple four-letter prescription is for UNITING you deeply, authentically with someone, or a few someones. A long-held truism for greater joy in life is having something to do and something to look forward to doing. Those things could be enjoyed alone, but another part of that simple recipe for joy is that each of us needs to not feel alone in the world. No man or woman is an island. We humans are a social species and are wired to be interdependent.
UNITING is even important for our physical health. A compilation of research done in 2017 shows that a lack of social connectedness equates to the risk of smoking up to 15 cigarettes per day!
UNITING is crucial for our mental/emotional health–our joy, too. UNITING doesn’t have to involve romantic feelings, but it must be an especially important, deep connection with another being.
The latest census count reports 36 million Americans living alone, about 28% of adults. The number has seen a steady increase over the last several decades. The age segmentation for singletons is as you might expect. Young men living alone out number young women. The middle years have a fairly equal number of men and women living singly. Then, because women live longer, more senior women than senior men live alone.
UNITING remains an essential element in the pursuit of happiness. This is not solely about coupling but includes close relationships with friends and with family members. Although traditional church attendance has plummeted in much of the U.S. since the mid-20th century, connecting through faith and spirituality continues to link us humans.
THE GENUINE JOY GREETING is a choice I want you to leave this one-hour “JOY LIFT” session and practice. It’s simple and can quickly, no matter how busy and distracted you are, lift your spirit and that of the others you encounter. The next time you meet someone, remember: CONTACT, COMMENT, CONNECT. I’ll repeat “The Genuine Joy Greeting” instructions: MAKE EYE CONTACT/PLEASANTLY COMMENT/POSITIVELY, PHYSICALLY CONNECT.
This could sound like an antiquated, etiquette tutorial but it’s proven to add joy to you, the greeter and to those you greet. It’s a choice you can make starting today to add joy to your life. Again, for the socially challenged—Acknowledge others by truly looking into their eyes. Smile and tell them “Hello” or “Hey lady” or “Howdee cowpoke” or “It’s good to see you.” Then, when it’s possible and wouldn’t overly invade the other person’s “personal space,” offer a handshake, a hug or touch their arm. Lifting another’s spirit is Buddhist, Christian, universal, human. One last time before the one-liners: CONTACT/COMMENT/CONNECT makes the world go round and is understood in every language.
S.U.N.S. UNITING ONE-LINERS
“Today is a good day to have someone to do some delicious nothing with.”
“My doctor said I’m healthy enough for romantic activity if only I looked better.”
“Sadly, these ‘love handles’ I have appear to just be handles.”
“I’ll sleep when I’m dead—probably next to someone who will snore until eternity.”
“Good friends is better than good grammar.”
“A weekend never has too many ‘I love you’s.’”
“Being single is fine but I miss somebody to blame everything on.”
“Don’t judge someone until you’ve walked a parade in his majorette boots.”
“Friends are my apology for some of the family I gave you. —God”
S.U.N.S. NEIGHBORING—Make someone happy or lots of someones happy and you will be happier, too. NEIGHBORING is not about thinking less of yourself, it’s about thinking of yourself less.
Just trying to help others brings us joy, according to Dr. Emma Seppala, chief scientist for Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education. Seppala (pronounced suh-pay-ya), the author of “The Happiness Track,” reports “Research shows that people who are more compassionate and generous end up being happier and healthier than others—and may even live longer.”
This is about making a positive difference to the world because you lived. You don’t have to sacrifice your own pleasure to receive the joy found in NEIGHBORING. No one is asking you to be Mother Teresa, just don’t be a “mutha” and do be good to Mother Nature and be someone who would make any mother or dad beam a sunny smile. Kindness is still in the world, and we need to fight for it.
Dr. Adam Grant, psychology prof at U Penn’s Wharton School shares the idea of a “five-minute favor” in his bestseller, GIVE AND TAKE. This is another example of a choice you can make today to add more joy to your life. These are random acts of kindness you positively think up and do for others. Start a “Take One, Leave One Library” at your work desk. Bring an apple for your intern. Help others connect. Do these NEIGHBORING things without expecting anything in return—be more others-centered just because it makes you feel joyous.
S.U.N. NEIGHBORING ONE-LINERS:
“Never miss a chance to help others and look like you care.”
“We are physicians to each other, and laughter is great medicine.”
“Adopt a child or if you don’t want to work quite that hard—adopt-a-highway.”
“Give someone a fish and they can eat for a day. Teach someone to text for curbside take-out and they can get Tequila.”
“Teaching kids to be kind would be easier if there were more grown-ups for them to model.”
“Beautiful people aren’t always good but good people are always beautiful.”
S.U.N.S. SPELLBINDING—The last of the four elements of joyous aging is about listening to your heart and following your bliss with full-fledged commitment.
I’ve tried sitting cross-legged on a rug, staring into nothingness and chanting a meditation. I ultimately felt—nothing and even though that could be nirvana for you, it came to seem kind of nothingburger for me.
I still pray regularly but retreating to a monastery just seems wrong—for me—when I could be sharing one-liner smiles, giving “joyous aging” talks, raking leaves, shelving donated books at the public library or walking a neighbor’s dog.
These particular passions are not work for me—they are exquisite play. I could choose to spend my time fully retired, but my choices are enjoyable for me and are things I can get “lost in” doing. To keep some balance, I recognize that sometimes the best use of my time is doing nothing. In my creative moments, these days I’m working on a new Tik Tok gig and co-writing a Broadway-intended musical, “The Original One-Liner American Diner,” based on my 5,000+ aphorisms.
SPELLBINDING is an individual choice. What one finds captivating depends on one’s personal interests and pleasures. Think back on the things you find SMILE-MAKING; the first “S” in the “S.U.N.S. joyous aging system.”
Own your own passions. As long as you’re not hurting yourself or someone else, don’t be embarrassed or shamed. Among those many SMILE-MAKING things are one or a few that really “crank your tractor.” Maybe you find it SPELLBINDING to be dancing, “Patch Adams” clowning or twirling a baton. Choose your joy, climb into that go-go cage, put on the rubber nose, strap on the pom poms.
Find something magically transporting that speaks to your heart. Maybe it’s mowing your lawn or reading some each day. When you are pursuing your particular SPELLBINDING passions, you experience a delicious release from self-awareness and become immersed in what noted psychologist Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi refers to as being “in the flow.”
Finding your bliss is easily attainable though it does require knowing yourself, sometimes risking a change, and then fully committing. You’ll know you are experiencing a joyful state of SPELLBINDING when you feel: alive, energized, playful, contributing and are synchronized with others and the universe.
S.U.N.S. SPELLBINDING ONE-LINERS:
“Don’t follow your dreams; just GPS them and go where they are.”
“God woos some in churches, some in gardens, some in nightclubs. God woos us where we are.”
“I’m not napping; I’m thinking horizontally.”
“My neighbors are listening to some fun music this weekend…whether they like it or not.”
“Of all the paths we wander in life, many of the best are dirt.”
“The angels wait for each of us. Dammit, make ‘em wait!”
“Shame and flies live on bullsh*t.”
“My main focus this year is staying alive through December 31.”
“I accomplished all of last year’s resolutions except to quit lying.”
“Some think I’m shallow as a pie tin, but actually I’m more of a Bundt.”
“Let’s do lunch, you can text while I read.”
THE S.U.N.S. ONE-HOUR JOY LIFT that I just shared is simply outlined but it represents more than 40 years of research and study for optimizing happiness as we age. I hope you start adding more joy to your life today by embracing “THE GENUINE JOY GREETING” and also Dr. Grant’s “five-minute favor.”
Sometime within the next seven days, I hope you will block out another hour and consider those many things you find personally SMILE-MAKING, then, think about those you genuinely value, the important people you connect with deeply and honestly in the world as you are UNITING. Ask yourself, “How could the world be better because I’m adding joy to it? It’s proven through research, you will enjoy life more if you are more others-centered, more actively NEIGHBORING? Lastly, what is truly bliss-inducing for you? What would you do even if you weren’t being paid to do it? What do you find deliciously SPELLBINDING?
I wish you—JOY.
JOY-GIVERS CELEBRATING A BIRTHDAY THIS WEEK:
June 11—Peter Dinklage
June 12—Jim Nabors
June 13—Martha Washington
June 14—Lang Lang
June 15—Saul Steinberg
June 16—Tupac Shakur
June 17—Barry Manilow
SARDINE AND SALSA, AVOCADO FRENCHIES—MAINE
Each week, JOY & GERONTOLOGY shares a recipe saluting a healthy food produced in America. The delicious and nutritious collection is called “The S.U.N.S. Longevity Cookbook” and highlights vitamin B-3 (niacin) which many gerontologists believe holds the promise for a long, healthy, joyful life.
1 avocado, mashed
2 romaine lettuce leaves, chopped
¼ green bell pepper, finely chopped
1 teaspoon lemon juice
4 slices French bread
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 (4oz.) can of sardines in water (drained)
1 (14oz.) can diced tomatoes with basil, garlic and oregano (drained)
Step 1—Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Step 2—Combine avocado, chopped lettuce, chopped green pepper, and lemon juice in a small bowl.
Step 3—Brush extra-virgin olive oil on bread slices and toast in the preheated oven until browned, about 5 minutes on each side.
Step 4—Remove slices from oven. Spread with avocado mixture; top with sardines and canned tomatoes.
1,070 JOY-GIVING THINGS FROM MY FIRST 70 YEARS (continued)
525. Quotable quotes from “Readers Digest Magazine.”
526. Hearing my philosophy professor/hillbilly dad twang Plato quotes.
527. Hearing my dad, Ben, read one-liners from “Poor Richard’s Almanac” by Ben Franklin.
528. Henny Youngman, American aphorist.
529. “Take my wife…please.”
530. Coppertone Sun Lotion.
531. Blockbuster Video Stores.
532. Pen pals.
533. Tuberose fragrance at our family farm.
534. Heirloom roses.
535. Piggly Wiggly and Hoggly Woggly.
536. The Everready Bunny.
537. Green Stamps.
538. “Splish splash, I was takin’ a bath.”
539. “Yes, we have no bananas.”
540. Rodney Dangerfield, American aphorist.
541. “I get no respect.”
542. Driving across the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco.
543. New Jersey, “The Garden State,” in autumn.
544. “Commonwealth” by Ann Patchett.
545. “Who Let the Dogs Out?!”
546. “Cotton grew right up to our front door.”
547. Having fun on Tanya Tucker’s tour bus.
548. Dorothy Parker, American aphorist.
549. “Brevity is the soul of wit—and lingerie.”
WISHING YOU A JOYFUL WEEK and MANY JOY-LIFTS THOSE 168 HOURS!