How to get the most out of life

A group of oldies were sitting around, having a coffee, and talking about all their ailments – having a whinge, actually. The conversation went something like this.
‘My arms have got so weak I can hardly lift this cup of coffee,’ said one.
‘Yes, I know,’ said another. ‘My cataracts are so bad; I can’t even see my coffee.’
‘I couldn’t even mark an X at election time because my hands are so crippled,’ volunteered a third.
‘What? Speak up! What? I can’t hear you’, said one elderly lady!
‘I can’t turn my head because of the arthritis in my neck,’ said one, to which several nodded weakly in agreement.
‘My blood pressure pills make me so dizzy!’ exclaimed another.
‘I forget where I am, and where I’m going,’ said another.
‘I guess that’s the price we pay for getting old,’ winced an old man as he slowly shook his head. The others nodded in agreement. ‘Well, count your Blessings,’ said a woman cheerfully. ‘Thank God we can all still drive.’

Other than the Eric-Idel moment (always look on the bright side) and the scary possibilities for other road users, some oldies seem to like having a whinge about ageing and growing old.

Yet, modern medical science has helped to add years to life. In days gone by, a heart attack or stroke would signal the end, but now stents, bypasses, and wonder drugs can extend life even further. It doesn’t follow, as the conversation above illustrates, that increased longevity necessarily includes an increase in quality. After all, Groucho Marx assured us, ‘Anyone can get old. All you have to do is live long enough’. This emphasis on the quality of life is hardly a recent ‘discovery’. A couple of thousand years ago, Seneca described the practice of adding years to life without adding life to those years as a waste of time. When it comes to longevity, quality and quantity must be inextricably linked.

A great message for growing old gracefully comes from octogenarian Daniel Klein. In his bestselling book Travels with Epicurus, Klein resolved not to dwell on something over which he had no control – like, growing older. Instead, he said, ‘I would rather try to figure out how to spend my time in the best possible way’.

Dying young, as late as possible, is one of the main challenges for all of us. And to that end, being an active participant rather than an onlooker (or whinger) is worth the effort.