In his treatise on “How to Grow Old”, Roman Philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero expressed how useless it is to complain about growing old, because “Fighting against Nature is as pointless as the battles of the giants against the gods.” Yet, despite such a seemingly defeatist attitude, Cicero was anything but depressed about his advancing age. In fact, he was one of the first crusaders against ageist stereotyping, and encouraged people to defend their age, and hold their heads high.
Cicero wholeheartedly believed that the joys experienced in the older stages of life are unique, and just as rewarding—albeit different– as the joys that are specific to babies, children, and young adults. So why don’t most people associate aging with happiness? Perhaps because of the common fears associated with growing old; which are evident in those who constantly worry about their age.
According to Cicero, there are 4 age-related fears:
- We fear aging takes us away from an active life.
- We fear aging weakens the body
- We fear aging deprives us of sensual pleasures
- We fear aging because we fear getting closer to death.
And all of them, he believed, could be debunked.
First, plenty of older adults live active, vibrant lives well into their 60’s, 70’s and beyond. We may not seek out the same activities we did when we were 25, but why would we? Says Cicero: When you get older, “it is not by strength or speed, or swiftness of body” that we involve ourselves, but rather, activities that require ‘wisdom, character, and sober judgment”. I might have loved the exhilaration of diving when I was a kid at the beach, but today I much prefer a more relaxing (and less-risky) swim. Or a trip to the museum, or the art gallery—things I wasn’t particularly interested in when I was younger.
Second, while our level of strength changes throughout the years, we can still use the strengths we have, without feeling we have “lost” anything. “I don’t long for the strength of youth…any more than when I was a young man I desired the strength of a bull or an elephant.” The message is to accept the nature of who we are, because only then can we live happy. At each stage of life, we have exactly what we need and we must preserve the health we have through moderate exercise and “self-control” when it come stop eating. The timeless formula that still works.
Third, to say older adults are deprived of sensual pleasures couldn’t be more false. If we are talking about love and romance, well many older adults are out there dating and having fun, perhaps with a bit more wisdom and less euphoria than years ago. Or perhaps instead they have opted to direct their energies towards hobbies and activities that don’t involve romance at all. Cicero, for instance, was enamored with agriculture and wrote extensively about the joys of every aspect of planting and the satisfaction of harvesting. The bottom line? All roads lead to Rome; many roads lead to happiness.
Finally, Cicero reassures us there is no reason to fear death, for at the end our lives, there will either be no consciousness at all, or eternal bliss. Personally he believed in the second option. And so do I.
Question: Do YOU fear growing old? If so, does the wisdom of Cicero help you to see the potential for aging happy? I’d love it if you would “like” and share this article if you have a moment. And as always I value your comments and your feedback!
Cicero, Marcus Tullius (translation by Philip Freeman, 2016). How to Grow Old: Ancient Wisdom for the Second Half of Life.
© Raeleen Mautner, Ph.D. 2018