We’ve all heard of 80-year-olds who feel like they’re 16, but come on…
Is that really an example of mind over matter?
Or is it an example of severe self-delusion?
Feeling young doesn’t change what you see in the mirror. It doesn’t convince the doctor to give you a pass when you go in for your yearly checkup.
Your body is going to get older, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Refusing to act your age will only make you look stupid. No one needs more 70-year-old men in Hawaiian shirts speeding by in the fast lane, flashing customized number plates and a girlfriend the age of his granddaughter.
But researchers respectfully disagree.
The science of aging has undergone a revolution in the past several decades.
According to anti-aging expert Dr. Deepak Chopra:
We now know that what used to be considered the ‘normal’ experience of aging—a progressive descent into physical and mental incapacity—is in large part a conditioned response. The mind influences every cell in the body and therefore human aging is fluid and changeable. It can speed up, slow down, and even reverse itself.”
In other words, if you can fake feeling young, you might just be able to turn back the clock.
But feeling younger is harder than it sounds. It takes than bad fashion and jamming out to Justin Bieber.
How old you feel is affected by a number of things, including your personality, how much stress you’re under, how much you like what you see in the mirror, and the company you keep.
There’s sound scientific truth behind Groucho Marx’s tired joke, “A man’s only as old as the woman he feels.” Studies show that men who marry much younger wives live longer. (The same does not hold true for women.)
But women don’t need to keep the company of much younger men to enjoy feeling more youthful.
All they have to do is spend time with children.
Ever noticed how kindergarten teachers never seem to age? Their youthful spirits, enthusiasm and energy are a perfect match for the small children they teach.
Of course, when it comes to your own children, the little energy vampires drain you as fast as they inspire you. One moment you’re dancing around the room like a teenager, and the next minute you’re frantically mopping up the water from a broken vase while simultaneously comforting a crying child with a bump on her head.
Having children keeps you young in spirit while also giving you gray hair. That doesn’t exactly help you come out ahead.
If you want a surefire way to feel young—and you don’t want to date someone immature or hijack your sister’s kids to do it—then get in touch with a metaphorical child:
Your inner child.
You remember what it was like to be a child. Maybe you still recall how much fun you used to have, how big and exciting the world seemed to be, and how the simplest things seemed magical.
Doesn’t feel like that anymore, does it?
As we grow up, we lose our sense of wonder and innocence. We become realists. We know there’s no such thing as magic. No one is going to swoop in and rescue us. It’s a dog-eat-dog world, and we have to work hard to make our place in it.
All of which serve to make us feel old fast.
Stress and fatigue age us. Hard work with no play wears us down. Our hearts harden. We smile less and pose more. We do what’s expected of us instead of what we want.
We see ourselves as mature, experienced, battle-weary souls. We forget what it felt like to be young.
But our inner child remembers.
That child laughed out loud and played to her heart’s content. She let her imagination run wild and dreamed of adventure. Her innocence and joy eventually faded, but for years the real world couldn’t dampen her spirit.
That girl is still inside you, waiting for your permission to play.
John Bradshaw popularized inner child work with his 1990 New York Times bestselling book Homecoming. In it, he encourages us to make room in our lives for our inner child. He suggests making a date with your inner child and doing whatever she would like to do.
For example, what did you used to dream of doing as a kid? What got you really excited? Eating ice cream cones, building sandcastles, going on roller coasters or horseback rides?
Then do it!
No, you’re not too old. Invite a niece or a nephew along if you’re too embarrassed to be a big kid on your own.
Giving yourself permission to be a kid again can change your life.
When my daughter was born, I’d forgotten I’d ever been anything but grown up. I didn’t spend much time around kids. I was completely immersed in the adult world of work and travel.
As she grew, I discovered long-forgotten parts of myself. I sang to her, silly nonsense songs, and remembered to my chagrin the embarrassingly bad songs I made up as a kid. As I read her storybooks out loud, giving each character its own voice, I recalled my childhood fascination with funny voices.
To my daughter, I was a fellow child in an adult body. She wanted me to play with her, to chase and tease. I couldn’t tell her that I didn’t do those things. Being a grown-up was no excuse.
Thank goodness my inner child knew what to do. She’s taken over, and I’ve never looked back.
Knowing what I know now, I’ll never again look askance at retirees on rides at Disneyland, or grown men ordering rainbow sherbet, or even teenagers in onesies.
Acting your age is so 20th century.