Better With Age

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Pro-aging looks like this.
“Old age and treachery always overcomes youth and skill.”
~Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard


I am grateful that at the age of fifty I had a significantly positive, long-lasting, life-changing experience. It happened during a men’s drumming retreat weekend in the Texas woods.

Around the campfire, we discussed rites of passage, why they are significant, and how they are maintained in Native American cultures but largely discarded in contemporary “American” culture, where we have come to worship youth and discard our elderly. Too bad for America.

The retreat leaders prepared us for a rite of passage that would induct all of the men age fifty and older into a Council of Elders. The campfire ceremony took on a sacred aura. The larger group was instructed in the importance of respect for the wisdom of elders. I’m not sure how it affected the other “elders” but, in a mystical flash being formally elevated to this status changed my mindset about aging from fear and anxiety to positive expectancy.

The anticipation of more wisdom and the insights one can only attain with age has stayed with me. It makes it easier for me to embrace and accept the changes that come with aging.

Native American Elders

I did not know then that studies would later show that this kind of attitude is associated with increased longevity and better health. I feel like a lucky guy to have been in that place at that time.

A great advantage of the work that I do with laughter –which I now believe can accurately be described as delivering happiness—is that I can do it for as long as strength, energy and enthusiasm hold out. I expect there will be large numbers of us doing a great job of it in our 80’s, 90’s, and beyond.

Rx: A Lifetime of Laughter

Long ago, I discovered that there are aspects of therapeutic laughter that cannot be taught.

They can only be learned from experience.

In some health & human services occupations these insights might be called “clinical judgment”.

It takes practice and feedback, trial and error sometimes, in order for us to form the mind-body pathways that we call higher skills, mastery, and smooth delivery.

Think about learning to ride a bicycle, drive a car, tie your shoes, fold an omelet, or navigate your hard drive.

With repetition, those pathways are virtually permanently programmed into our psycho-bio-neurological systems. Often, they feel like a combination of A-ha! & Ooh-ah! & Ha-ha!

Leading therapeutic laughter and delivering happiness, and doing it really well, is like that.

If you keep having experiences—even so-called failures—and you learn from them, you are getting better with age.

It means that you can look forward to getting even better with more aging.

It means that you can enthusiastically embrace a pro-aging mindset even in the midst of our anti-aging culture.

“Elder” Wavy Gravy at Earthdance 2006

The best is yet to come.

Okay, that long-winded set-up leads to an important question for discussion. Positive psychology and Happiness expert, Tal Ben-Shahar, PhD, suggests we think about and exchange our ideas about aging this way:

Regarding any part of your life, in what ways have you developed and improved over time, with age?

Thinking back to any earlier point in your life, you might want to finish the starter: “If I knew then what I know now…”

Please respond here –and include how long you’ve been at it– so we all can learn from each other.


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About the Author

Steve Wilson

Award-winning psychologist, Steve Wilson, also known as The Joyologist and The Cheerman of the Bored, has spent 30 years specializing in applied and therapeutic humor with a humanitarian mission. As Director of National Humor Month, he intertwines science and ancient wisdom with substance and humor to create practical methods to lead the world to health, happiness and peace through laughter. More than six thousand people have completed his unique training in how to create therapeutic laughter, and tens of thousands more around the world have been uplifted by his talks, classes, books, and articles. He established the World Laughter Tour, Inc., in 1998, to be a rich resource and inspiration for improving productivity, health, and well being in business, healthcare and education. For more information and