Aging in a Mental Straightjacket

Barbara Morris

Barbara Morris

Some time ago I asked newsletter subscribers, “What kind of help do you need but are not finding in your quest to Put Old on Hold”. One person replied,  “How to stay young forever.”

Facetious answer? It doesn’t matter. Let’s be honest. Every woman (and probably every man) would like to look young as long as possible. While beauty is in the eye of the beholder, most would agree that a dry, wrinkled, face and body are not appealing. The financial success of the cosmetics industry and the amount of money spent on cosmetic surgery attests to that.

But not to worry — you can appear young forever. Beware: Don’t think you can stay young forever. Anyone who tells you that you can is selling snake oil.

First, let’s start with your face. You can buy beauty same as you buy a car – on time. Cosmetic procedures of all kinds are becoming easier, safer and more affordable. When you look as good on the outside as you are healthy on the inside, nothing beats the “wow” effect of a successful cosmetic procedure. You are back in the game.

Next, your body reveals what and how much and what you eat and if you exercise. If you can’t control food intake and are not motivated to exercise, if you have enough money to waste, you can always find a doctor who will suck the fat out every inch of your body.

So much for physical beauty. It’s yours if you want it. You can look any way you want to look for as long as you want. But you and I know that looking young forever is not all about looking like a Barbie doll. There is something far more important.

It’s about being young inside. The only way you are going to achieve that is by conscientious attention to how you treat your body day in and day out over time. There is no magic pill. No doctor can do it for you.

Being “young inside” includes having a young mindset and living a young lifestyle. If you can control what goes on in your head and how you live, you pretty much have it made.

You have to work at having a young attitude because everything in our society militates against it. At midlife, and even before, tradition dictates that you think, act, dress, walk, talk and live in socially accepted stereotypical ways. It’s like a straightjacket; the older you get the tighter the straps on the straightjacket become and squeeze the young attitude out of you.

You have to hold onto a young attitude while you still have one. After it’s lost it’s tough to get it back. After retirement, a young attitude is severely challenged. You begin to do “senior” things: you participate in  senior-oriented activities with like-minded friends; you reminisce about the past, and trade stories about aches, pains and doctors. You go to bingo and the casino and do other socially accepted but non-challenging things people your age are supposed to enjoy.

You accept the culturally imposed straightjacket as “this is the way it’s supposed to be.” With each passing year, the straps on the straightjacket continue to tighten. Your reflection in the mirror gradually becomes that of a squeezed, drained, blank, little old man or woman.

Here’s the antidote: Don’t allow your young attitude to be hijacked by outdated traditions or cultural norms.

One of the best ways to avoid an old mindset is to choose friends very carefully. If you are 50 and associate exclusively with other 50-year-olds, you are going to adopt an old attitude before you know it. We learn from each other. We copy each other’s behaviors; we adopt each other’s thinking.

To stay young mentally, regular association with younger people is a must. But don’t wait for them to come to you. Young people hang with other young people. They don’t have the maturity to pursue and value older friendships. And please, don’t try to be “best buds” with younger people  — they won’t appreciate you or respect you for it.

Even if you are the gutsiest, hippest role model in a group of “old” thinkers, straightjacket thinking will catch up with you because ultimately, it’s easier to fit in than to be different.

If you still work and meet younger people, you are in luck. If you are retired, get a job that puts you in contact with younger people. Go back to school or volunteer to mentor young people. One drawback of retirement communities is that you are segregated from the young and the energy they project.

I know from personal experience the value of being around young people. You won’t always like what you see or hear; you may be dismayed by some of their ideas and behaviors, but you will benefit from their energy, enthusiasm and openness. And who knows — your maturity may have a civilizing effect on them.  And you may find yourself  rethinking some of the social straightjacket thinking society foists on people as they continue to age past midlife.

A bonus: If you maintain a young attitude, and you are looking for a significant other, your chances of catching a “live one” escalate astronomically! Remember, youthfulness attracts youth; “oldness” attracts what is old.


  1. Ann, you are sharper than most women our age because your have kept your brain challenged — not just “busy” — but challenged. I am amazed how much you know and remember, and how well you put your ideas into words. In other words, “Girlfriend, you still got it goin’ on!” You are a blessing to all of us.

  2. Ann Herzer says

    I’m trying! Almost all my age are dead, so most of my friends are much younger anyway. I still like children and dogs, so hopefully I will remain with an active brain forever young! Ann

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