Thoughts from the mountains II: Here’s the formula for preparing for a good old age!
In last week’s post, I described how my current self-imposed partial mountain retreat is appearing to force me to consider old age and imagine what life might be like when I have reached that stage. This has led me to create an outline of what one can and should do to prepare for this stage of one’s life, if we are lucky (or unlucky??) to reach it, which I promised I would share in the next post. So here goes.
I decided that old age, which inevitably has unpleasant characteristics, does not have to be this sad, isolated, fearful, and reactive existence that we often make it out to be. Yes, let’s face it, there is no escaping the thought of approaching death or painful knees. But death is happening to everyone at any age in this world we live in, and maybe we can find room to celebrate that we are lucky to have been given a long life. And since death is an inevitable eventuality, rather than sit in a rocking chair in a dark silent room miserably waiting for it, why not embrace life to the fullest possible even in those last years, especially if one is blessed with relatively good health and can still think straight and move around independently?
To summarize the idea, I think one should be proactive about planning for old age- and I mean more than just financial planning. It should not be something that we silently worry about and then find ourselves passively moving into it, and accepting whatever circumstances have been thrust on us.
This is not revolutionary thinking of course. In many places around the world, people have decided to age in place with other people who share with them anything from musical taste to political or religious views, to sexual identity. This can be in common homes or retirement villages that they have set up. But this form of preparing proactively for old age is still not widespread, and especially in places like the Middle East where people still subconsciously rely on their children or general community bonds for support. We all know however that this no longer is a real guarantee, despite the lingering nostalgia. How many children end up truly living close to their parents, or having the time to take care of them beyond the occasional visit? Or how many friends are really there in times of need? And this is for people for who already have children. What about the increasing number of child-less couples, single men and women, and gays and lesbians?
And so without further delay, here is my five-point formula for pro-actively planning for old age and increasing the chances of a happy retirement:
- Get in the habit of consciously thinking about your old age and imagining yourself there. For one, it would make you really appreciate whatever current stage you are in, and incentivize you to really enjoy it and make maximum use of the time right now. For another, it would make you begin to understand what general context you need to aim towards. Is there a particular country, area, city, region, etc. that you would rather be in? Are you more of a city, mountain, or sea person? What sort of people might you like to be surrounded with? What would an ideal day be like? Is there anything you are looking forward to doing more of, or something you have always wanted to learn or read more about? In summary, role-play in your head from time to time a happy contented version of yourself in old age, and understand it better.
- Think especially about the type of people you would like to be surrounded with. This is a critical step. Keep in mind that they may not be some of your current friends. It is of course fantastic to be surrounded by people with whom you have shared memories as good friends, but not all current friends who have habits you tolerate now can be tolerated when you are older! I think being surrounded by the right type of people is a key consideration for a happy old age. As mentioned before, you can decide you like to be surrounded by people who have a shared interested in music, spirituality, long walks, food and drink, and so on. The point is, it does not have to be necessarily all the people you might like to hang out with today. As an example, the sort of people I would like to be surrounded with (being the founder of Hedohumanism!) are people who share my values and enjoy some pleasures at the same time. I wouldn’t mind spending a few hours with someone having a good wine and smoke while bithcing about how pathetic and mediocre most people have become. I can’t do that with some of my current friends who might not know what mediocre even really means
Once you have found those people, and they don’t have to be more than a handful, actively discuss this with them and consciously make a sort of pact to be together and to form each other’s community in old age. It would help a lot of course if those people want to be in the same geographic area you like to be in too, or if you together plan on moving to some reasonable location that all agree on.
Pushed to the end, you would even start common financial arrangements with this group – a sort of joint fund that all would feed into starting now and which would be used to pay for common services that would be useful in old age: a common driver to take you around; a cook; cleaning help; even nurses and personal care help. Instead of each having to afford and pay for these services separately, it would be like an UBER of old age. (Actually this is a great business idea that I have just given you for free…enjoy, and you’re welcome!)
- After finding the people, plan for the actual place. Do you prefer a large multi-room home where you can all move in together? Or do you prefer to prepare a small community where each has their own private studio and then a large common area for everyone to socialize? I find that a particularly good idea is to consider some sort of multi-generational arrangement: a setup where a group of younger people either share the accommodation or use part of it for some purpose on a daily basis. Already where young people are offered free accommodation in such places in return for help, and interesting human bonds are formed. Or a big space is made available to young people to use as their first co-working space or to organize community events or movie screenings and so on. It would also be a good idea to have a space that visiting grandchildren might like to hand our in. The point is, a mutli-generational home offers a unique form of balance that can lead to a good comfortable vibe for all involved.
- Take a class on a topic that has always interested you and you wanted to learn more about. It could be things like learning to play a musical instrument or cooking or gardening or classical art appreciation. It could be on spirituality and learning to see yourself as part of a much larger continuum that doesn’t end with death! You might even host the class at your communal home and invite members of the larger community to attend. It is a great way to form fresh relationships.
- Finally, individually or as a group, get involved in a project that gives back to your community or to a disadvantaged group of people. You can give back from your time, money, experience, or any combination of those. The point is to keep being engaged and continue to be useful to society- and to also care for something larger that yourself(ves) that will leave you with less time to focus only on your own troubles and fears.
So here you go. That’s my recipe so far. Granted, not very easy, but is it impossible? Not really, and can be done at many different scales. Certainly trying to pull it off beats hanging around waiting to sit miserably in a rocking chair in a dark room, feeling sorry for yourself!
Now I’m off to start collecting my group of people. Who’s in??