The Last Mile

A grandfather engaged with his 14 year old grandson on a park bench. The boy having taken a break from his football game came and sat with his grandfather.

“Grandpa my friends on the field were saying that you are very jolly and look happy”

“I am indeed happy son also that I am meant to be”.

What do you mean “meant to be”?

“What is the normal image that comes to your mind when you think of an old person. Ill, sick, physically challenged, forgetful, isn’t it? By extension we start to believe that such problems bring unhappiness. However that is as untrue as it can be.

“What do you mean grandpa. Doesn’t these ailments cause suffering”.

“No my son they do not cause much suffering unless pain is perpetual. This is because all of us have an adaptability quotient and we adapt very fast to altered life conditions. So when you are young you estimate that loss of physical strength or loss of say hearing would be very painful, however that is not the case. We adjust to these things quickly and revert back to our average happiness level. Also suffering is not caused by affliction itself but by our non acceptance of it. So when we adapt we accept, adjust and move on.

However you know when our physical and cognitive abilities are going down something remarkable starts to happen on our emotional side.”

“And that is …..

“That is, that we start to relax with our emotions and start to engage more with them. We start to process our sadness and our joys better and feel them more. This makes the emotional life richer and more differentiated which in turn contributes to enhanced sense of well being.

“So Grandpa would you say old people are happier inspite of being physically weaker, as compared to young ”.

“Yes my boy and science backs that up. Old people definitely have a better chance of being happy than young or middle aged people. If one gets to play it, second innings is certainly happier than the first one.

See it also has to do with knowing yourself and the world better and prioritizing your needs better. When one is young like you , you want to experiment more, explore more and that leads to lot of unproductive time. However when one is old like me, you tend to shutter down and focus more on what is really important. Also when one has discharged worldly responsibilities, negative emotions like stress, tension and anger start to subside.

So this combination of three factors: enhanced focus, less negative emotions and their better processing increases the happiness quotient in old as compared to young”.

“However grandpa the image one gets of old people is exactly the opposite that they are more grumpy and irritable”.

“Ah my boy, we perceive in stereotypes so often we end up with the wrong picture. If you thought only people with red hair are beautiful you will believe world is full of ugly people. Likewise if you only focused on the groans of the old you will miss the merry twinkle in their eye or that grateful tear on their cheek”.

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