One of the more difficult things about getting older is, …getting older. And that’s especially true when you think of yourself as young, while others do not.
Many years ago, and I will not define many, so that anyone reading this can still think of me as young if they want to help keep the delusional word I live in alive.
Anyway, many years ago I read about a study in which they asked people the question: “How old are you when you think of yourself.”
Now I’m not talking about how old you feel when you get up in the morning and your body screams "don't move,” or how old you think you look when a face you don’t recognize is staring back at you in the mirror. The study asked a different question: The question of “when you think about yourself, how old are you?”
For me the answer is somewhere between eighteen and twenty, which is pretty silly, since that’s my age only after being divided by a number larger than three.
The study found that people usually answer this question with an age far different from their actual age. Just a few percent of the people answered their actual age, while all the other respondents gave an age that had nothing to do with their actual age, and there was no apparent pattern. A person in their eighties might give an answer of thirty-six, while a person in their fifties might say forty-eight, and a person in their thirties might give an answer in their teens.
The lack of a pattern was confusing until the researchers asked the follow-up question: “What happened in your life at that age?” And the answers allowed them to draw an interesting conclusion.
The conclusion they drew was that the age people gave when they answered the first question was usually an age where the individual strongly wanted something in their life to happen, but that event or situation did not occur: Examples included marriage, divorce, children, education, wealth, and all the other things people strive for: Some big, some small, but each event very important to the individual.
There was an initial tendency to interpret the data as meaning that people get stuck and don’t move on, but the research concluded that was not the case because a person’s answer had nothing outwardly to do with how they were living their lives.
I found that study fascinating, and during the past “many” years I have asked this question hundreds of times. The answers do not always follow the conclusions of the above study, but they have done so probably ninety percent of the time. By asking the two questions: “How old are you when you think of yourself” and then “What happened in your life at that age,” I have learned a lot about people I loved and many others.
My ninety year old aunt gave an answer of thirty-six, and I found out that was the year during the depression where she was struggling to get a teaching job, and she had to break her engagement. She lived a fulfilling life, but never married.
At your holiday parties, you can learn a lot about the person sitting next to you if you ask this question. Try it.
And the next time you’re somewhere and an old guy comes in the door with a smile on his face, just remember he might think of himself as seventeen.
Have a happy holiday everyone.