It’s different for all of us, but journalist Carl Honoré realized he was Old with a capital O at a hockey game, when a teammate pointed out he was the oldest player on the ice. He was only 48, but saw himself on a one-way trip to elastic waistbands and a rocking chair.
And the idea terrified him.
So the London-based journalist, who has reported from around the world for the likes of Time and The Economist, aimed his sight at the one destination he had so far avoided.
“Older age is still a foreign country for me,” he says. “I wanted to understand it and make peace with it.”
Honoré’s first book, the internationally best-selling In Praise of Slow, became a guide for those who embraced the slow movement, which urges a life set at a more human pace than the sped-up culture so many embrace.
His next book flips the script on aging. Bolder: Making the Most of Our Longer Lives describes his travels around the world to observe how people can look at aging as a privilege rather than a punishment.
“I want people to feel that aging can be a process of opening doors,” says Honoré, “not closing them.”
Here are five takeaways from the book on how you can live your best later years:
1. Take strength in numbers
“The 20th century unleashed a longevity revolution,” says Honoré, noting that better nutrition, health, technology, sanitation and medical care is helping much of the world to live longer.
Global life expectancy from birth has gone from 32 years in 1900 to 71.4 today. Of course, if you live in a wealthy Western country, it’s closer to 80.
Japan began a tradition in 1963 of giving a silver sake dish to its citizens who reached 100. The program ended in 2015 because there were too many centenarians.
The demographic goalposts are shifting, Honoré says.
“We’re entering a golden age of aging,’’ he says. “There’s no better time to grow older, thanks to science and shifting demographics.”
2. Age like Bowie
We know that Bowie was creative to the end, even with the diagnosis of cancer that eventually killed him. In his final year, his projects included the musical Lazarus, a haunting music video and the album Blackstar.
To Honoré, that went hand-in hand with Bowie’s embrace of aging.
He quotes Bowie: “I think aging is an extraordinary process whereby you become the person you always should have been.”
Honoré writes: “Seen through the Bowie lens, aging suddenly looks more like a bonus than a burden. It stops being a dreary slide towards the tomb to become instead an adventure or a quest…Rather than rotting, you are ripening; rather than losing the person you once were, you are finding your true self.
Thinking like Bowie, aging becomes an adventure or quest.
3. Follow the recipe
At this point, Honoré writes, we pretty much have a recipe for aging better:
“Exercise the body and brain. Cultivate an upbeat attitude and a sense of humor. Socialize lots. Avoid excess stress. Eat a healthy diet, consume alcohol in moderation and don’t smoke. “
You don’t have to be a super-geezer and climb mountains or go sky-diving, he says. We now have a broad array of role models in later life who are socializing, traveling, making art, starting companies or families, volunteering and giving back.
In fact, some thinkers suggest that the days of chronological aging are waning.
Honoré cites Nick Bostrom, who directs the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford university in England: “The important thing is not how many years have passed since your were born, but where you are in your life, how you think about yourself and what you are able and willing to do.”
4. Give in to your dreams
In Seoul, Honoré met Park Dae-Hyun, who spent nearly 30 years doing an accounting job he hated. But he felt obligated to take care of his family and worried what others would think if he dropped his steady paycheck for his dream of running a restaurant.
And then, one day, while eating some second-rate bibimbap (a Korean rice dish), Park had an epiphany: He didn’t care anymore what other people thought. He refused to spend the rest of his life doing a job he hated and eating bad food.
A few months later, not long after his 51st birthday, Park quit his accounting job and is now learning how to make proper bibimbap at a local cooking school.
Park still does freelance accounting work to make ends meet and may have to move from Seoul to a smaller city to afford a restaurant of his own.
“You have to make sacrifices but that’s okay because you’re following your dream,” Park says. “My advice to anyone thinking of changing careers is: Just go for it. You will find a way to make it work.”
5. Live with different generations
Honoré was perhaps most impressed when he visited Humanitas, a nursing home in Deventer, a small town in the middle of the Netherlands. The nursing home director started an experiment a few years ago: invite a handful of students to live in the home for free, given that they spend 30 hours a month interacting with the elderly residents.
The experiment has worked so well, that there is now a waiting list for both students and seniors who want to get into the 150-bed facility. Academics come to study it and similar programs are in place in the United States and elsewhere in Europe.
When the generations mingle, Honoré says, ageism fades from view. It’s hard to think of someone you see everyday as an “other.”
“My visit to Holland really changed my point of view,” Honoré says. “A huge point of this shift has to be about dropping our prejudices, as we have with racism and sexism.”
While Honoré is thrilled to hear that people of all ages are reading Bolder, he especially hopes that people afraid of aging — as he once was — pick up the book. “I want them to build up a reserve of optimism.”