Intergenerational foot race

Say No to Ageism

When I was growing up, I was convinced my mom had found the fountain of youth. She was 38 years old for almost ten straight birthdays. Not 40. Not even 39. Nope – 38 years old was the number. She reached it and it was as if time, for her, stood still. She was never going to be “over the hill.”

As a teenager, disbelief set in. I needed to properly investigate. One glance at her driver’s license and she aged nearly a decade.

My mom’s scheme introduced me to ageism. Ageism, as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), refers to the stereotypes (how we think), prejudice (how we feel) and discrimination (how we act) directed towards people on the basis of their age. My mom was being ageist against her future self. She implicitly felt that being older would be worse and so she tried to avoid it. She was apparently not aware of the happiness curve that shows older people as happier than those of middle-age.

Perniciousness of Ageism

Last week, WHO launched its global campaign to combat ageism. The organization has identified ageism as the biggest barrier to creating the world we all hope to grow old in. With their report and short video, they make a compelling case that ageism is destructive to all of us, but especially the young and old. For older people, ageism is associated with a shorter lifespan, poorer physical and mental health, slower recovery from disability and cognitive decline. Ageism reduces older people’s quality of life, increases their social isolation and loneliness (both of which are associated with serious health problems), restricts their ability to express their sexuality and may increase the risk of violence and abuse against older people.

Globally, one in two people are ageist against older people. The pandemic revealed ageism, including instances where health care was rationed for young people.

Education and learning is an activity for all ages

Education and learning is an activity for all ages (Source: WSJ)

Ageism Against Ourselves

According to WHO, ageism can be institutional, interpersonal, or self-directed. Fortunately, there are a number of people – though we will need millions more – fighting against institutional ageism in the United States. Jo Ann Jenkins, CEO of AARP, Dr. Bill Thomas, founder of the Eden Alternative, and Ashton Applewhite, author of This Chair Rocks and curator of Old School, have been leading crusaders for anti-ageism for years, if not decades. Paul Irving, Chair of the Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging, and Kerry Hannon, author of Great Jobs for Everyone 50+, have been vocal against ageism in the workplace.

But an area we all need to be especially careful of being ageist is against ourselves. This is self-directed ageism. When we buy into the negative stereotypes of being older, we are more likely to live into those stereotypes and reinforce interpersonal and institutional ageism. For example, if we believe that we can’t learn new things past a certain age, we’re less likely to even try.

Pushing back on these stereotypes is critical in the fight against self-directed ageism. Part of it is a mindset. We can do more as we age, but many of us are also healthier. It some respects 60 is the new 40. Sufferfesters in their 50s are conquering physical challenges noteworthy for people decades younger. There is an opportunity to dispel some of the stereotypes of old.

The Power of Intergenerational Relationships

One of the remedies for ageism, according to WHO, is to increase intergenerational interactions. This has been a passion of Marc Freedman, CEO of Encore.org and author of How To Live Forever, for decades. He, along with people like Donna Butts, CEO of Generations United, have highlighted the importance of intergenerational relationships and researched the benefits. Their findings show that these relationships elevate both young and old.

I value my intergenerational relationships. During our recent spring break road trip, my family and I mapped our route to spend time with friends who are decades older. The pandemic made all of us especially value our time together.

Creating and maintaining intergenerational relationships is key in fighting ageism

Creating and maintaining intergenerational relationships is key in fighting ageism

Role of Place and Ageism

Place matters in the context of ageism. Studies suggest that ageism is especially strong in the United States, with the Northeast and Southeast particularly steeped in it. New Jersey, Connecticut and Mississippi rank as the most ageist, whereas Utah, Alaska and Colorado are rated the least age-biased.

But where we choose to live within our regions and metropolitan areas may matter even more. Some places foster intergenerational interaction either through living with or near people of different ages, such as age-friendly apartment buildings or roommate arrangements such as through Nesterly. Some places have third places that naturally bring people of all ages together. Conversely, some age-restricted or senior living settings can be located separate and apart from people of other ages. Sadly, ageism can also occur within these environments where older people can be ageist against those who are just a bit older.

Mom Gets the Last Laugh

My mom no longer pretends to be 38 and she is less willing to discriminate against her future self. In fact, I am the one accused of being ageist. Several years ago, my mom was contemplating upgrading to a digital camera. I tried to persuade her it would be too complicated for her at her age. She proved me wrong, and has the pictures to prove it. Ryan is an expert speaker in the aging industry. Want to have Ryan speak at your event? Find out more.


If you like this blog, you can subscribe to Ryan’s mailing list to be contacted with links to his latest blogs and other relevant content.

Subscribe to Ryan's Newsletter
What Zillow Misses

What Zillow Misses

I was hoping something magical would happen in 2021. Life would return to “normal.” I understood that flipping the calendar to a new year was more symbolic than significant – the coronavirus doesn’t change its behavior from one year to the next – but, psychologically, I was ready for things to get better. Fast.

That Latest Twist: Snowvid-21

Queue “snowvid-21.” I, like many residents in Texas, was ill-prepared for a half foot of snow and days of below-freezing temperatures. The infrastructure for the state was not anticipating such conditions, either, leading to days without electricity or drinkable water for millions of people.

Why is 2020 following us into 2021?!?

Snow Plow shows Austin was unprepared for Snowvid-21

Austin and Texas in general was ill-prepared for Snowvid-21

On the surface, it was awful. We were hosting family from California for a long weekend that turned into a long week. Pipes froze (one burst), electricity was lost and water (when it was working) was undrinkable. Cell phones were unreliable, gas stations ran out of petrol and grocery store lines stretched out for miles. Flights were canceled for days. We even exhausted our supply of firewood. I now know what it feels like to camp out in your own house and live with teenagers skipping showers for days. Neither is recommended.

But something positive happened. People rallied. I learned that my brother-in-law is MacGyver in disguise, my son can grill on a charcoal bbq and our family is full of problem solvers with great attitudes.

Family was only part of the story. Neighbors helped each other. A next-door neighbor helped fix our broken pipe with spare PVC parts. Another neighbor with working electricity for a time set up my other brother-in-law with an internet-enabled room to do a national webinar.

The broader neighborhood came together as well. A warming station with bottled water and coffee was set up at the police station. Homes with electricity and working water served as way stations and bed & breakfasts for those less fortunate. People shared tips on how to keep pipes from freezing, which grocery stores had inventory and which gas stations were open. Older adults were checked on and meals were delivered where needed. One resident donated their generator to the city to help keep water flowing. A chef in the neighborhood collected coolers to deliver warm meals to another area of Austin hit harder by the storm. A neighborhood SWOT team helped clean a house flooded from broken pipes.

Coolers help neighbors who need food

Coolers packed with chef-prepared warm meals destined for those in need in the greater community

Zillow Can’t Capture the Full Picture

Zillow provides comprehensive information about homes to purchase or rent. Pictures, 3D floor plans, financial data, interactive maps, detailed descriptions and on and on. It has everything. It’s not surprising that about 1 in 20 homebuyers are purchasing homes without physically seeing them.

But can it answer the question of what happens when you lose electricity and water for days? Nope.

A home is more than a house. A house is a physical structure. A home is so much more: it is a composite of a region, metropolitan area, neighborhood, streets and physical dwelling, such as a house. It is also a feeling and has psychological and social dimensions.

In this sense, a home can have enormous intangible benefits that tools like Zillow can miss altogether.

Snowstorm in Austin

It took a snowstorm in Texas – creating some unusual sights – to reaffirm to some that they are in the right place

Implications for Finding the Right Place in an Age Requiring Resilience

Resilience is a required core competence as we age. Life throws more curve balls the longer we live. And we may be entering an era with more exogenous risks due to climate change, global pandemics and political unrest.

We are most resilient when we are webbed in community with others. The right place can make us more resilient, through design that brings people together. (This is a core tenet for New Urbanism, for example.) The culture of a community can naturally connect people and build what sociologists call social capital. The reality is that some places do this better than others.

You may be in the perfect place. Or, you may not be. Perhaps the pandemic has made your assessment more clear. Snowvid-21 was revealing for those in Texas.

One neighbor, Doris, is in the right place. She is in her 80s and lives alone. After losing electricity, she was greeted by neighbors who brought warm soup, buttered rolls, salad and hot water. While the food was nourishing, it may have been the thoughtfulness of the community that impacted her most. She shared, “I felt so loved.”

I dream of a time when all of us can feel the same way – and ideally without first needing to lose electricity and water.

Ryan is an expert speaker in the aging industry. Want to have Ryan speak at your event? Find out more.


If you like this blog, you can subscribe to Ryan’s mailing list to be contacted with links to his latest blogs and other relevant content.

Subscribe to Ryan's Newsletter
Should You Move?

Should You Move?

On average, people move 12 times over their lifetime. Demographers attribute most moves to changes in life circumstances: new job, marriage, kids, and so on. The data bears it out. Most moves are front-end loaded. By age 45, the expected number of moves is shy of 3.

But what about 2020? This year has been a litany of body blows from a pandemic, economic recession, political strife, urban unrest, hurricanes and fires. There are plenty of reasons to wonder if your current home is the best place to weather these times, irrespective of whether there is a change in life circumstances.

While the media has highlighted people moving, in some cases with buyers purchasing houses across the country without having physically seen them, the trend may be overblown. Many of the recent moves may be people accelerating a decision that was already in the works. For others, a move may be temporary until life returns to normal.

Regardless, it is best to carefully weigh moving to a new location, particularly as we get older.

Over 400 Age-Friendly Communities Nationwide (Source: AARP)

Pros of Moving

Moving can offer the prospect of being part of a better environment.

Climate change is an increasing concern, with some places affected more than others. I have a friend who lives in Northern California who may move out of state due to the increasing frequency of wildfires. For him and his wife, it’s not just the risk of losing their home, it is the ongoing stress from the threat of a fire that hinders peace of mind. They find it hard to sleep during the ever-increasing wildfire season.

Where you live matters. If you are in a place where are you not flourishing, better alternatives exist. If you are socially isolated, finding a place where it is easy to make friends could be worthwhile. If you live a sedentary lifestyle but wish to be more active, a move to a locale where activity is the norm could be helpful.

Moving can elevate financial wellbeing. For homeowners, selling a home and moving into a less expensive rental apartment or house can free up capital to help fund retirement. Homeowners are often not aware of the true costs of ownership and the risks of having a meaningful illiquid asset.

Lastly, a move can help with successful aging. There are over 400 age-friendly communities in the country. These communities have taken specific steps, through outdoor spaces and buildings, transportation, housing and more, to make life work better for all ages. A home in an age-friendly community with age-friendly features, such as single-story living and bathrooms with slip-resistant tiles, can be a wise choice for the long-term.

Cons of Moving

One of the biggest risks is assuming that a new location will necessarily lead to a better life. If you’ve lived in a place for a while, you likely have a network of friends and knowledge of the area, a valuable commodity that takes time and effort to replicate in another place. The elements that you appreciate about your current home may not be possible in a new environment. A move may lead to a worse situation.

Moving is expensive and takes energy. If a move involves a house sale, transaction fees and taxes can be meaningful. Moving costs, especially if across regions, can be many thousands of dollars. It also requires a lot of energy to move, particularly if there is downsizing involved. Decluttering can be exhausting.

The wrong move can be hard to undo. Given the cost and energy involved, it can be difficult to return to your prior life if you so desire. When moving, it is safe to assume that you will not be able to recreate your prior life.

Moving, decluttering and downsizing is a chore (Source: Wisconsin Public Radio)

Best to be Patient

The headlines are not encouraging these days. There can be a temptation to make a change in the hope that change can improve our lives.

Chip Conley, best-selling author and founder of the Modern Elder Academy, lived in San Francisco for decades before realizing shortly before the pandemic that he needed a change of scene. It was a challenge for him to leave close friends and a place with many memories, but his soul was ready for something different. It was a good change.

Chip’s story may be the exception. For most of us, we may be best to stay where we are unless there is an overriding need for change. There are ways to improve your wellbeing without necessarily moving. Even a modest renovation can go a long way toward making a place work better for the long haul.

The best strategy may be to be patient and make sure you make a move at the right time and to the right place, if a move is required at all. This is far better than making a panic move. I suspect in the coming years we will hear stories of panic moves from 2020 that didn’t work out as well as envisioned.

Ryan is an expert speaker in the aging industry. Want to have Ryan speak at your event? Find out more.


If you like this blog, you can subscribe to Ryan’s mailing list to be contacted with links to his latest blogs and other relevant content.

Subscribe to Ryan's Newsletter
Places change - New York City

Places Change

The coronavirus epidemic has highlighted the importance of place in our lives. Certain countries have been able to contain the outbreak and lower fatality risks associated with the disease. Others have not. In the U.S., we have seen a wide range of outcomes within regions, states and metropolitan areas. In a number of respects, our individual health has had more to do with where we live than how well we practice social distancing.

Places, like people, are not static. They change. Sometimes imperceptibly, other times more obviously. Sometimes for the good, sometimes for the bad. And, given the fact that where you live matters, ensuring that you are in a spot appropriate for you, particularly as you age, may not be a simple exercise.

Uncertainty of Urban Environments

Take urban environments. I have a friend in her 70s living in the Northeast, who traded a bucolic, suburban lifestyle for an active, urban one. Her suburban life required a car, and she felt socially isolated as she increasingly knew fewer of her neighbors. Her move into a downtown apartment allowed her to walk to various amenities and regularly participate in social events, including seeing nearby friends and family.

Then covid hit. Her place changed dramatically. She has been confined to her apartment and has been unable to meet new acquaintances or see friends and family. She has also felt less safe, with protesting and riots near her home.

While these current conditions may be temporary until the epidemic subsides, there may be lasting changes to urban environments that make living there less compelling. Remote work has been surprisingly productive. Most large companies have not seen any productivity loss and more than quarter have reported a productivity increase. Researchers speculate that nearly half of companies may allow as many as 40% of their employees who switched to remote work during the pandemic to continue doing so after the crisis, at least in part. Fewer workers downtown may result in less congestion, but it also translates to less demand for restaurants and various amenities that help create the energy of cities, as well as a critical loss of tax revenue for city services.

Percentage change in murder and robbery from 2019 to 2020

Safety may become a greater issue for cities, too. For years, crime has fallen dramatically in the U.S. Since 1993, crime in urban environments has fallen nearly 60%. However, in 2020, there has already been a noticeable uptick in crime in various large cities across the country. No doubt, recent rioting contributes to these figures, and this activity may be more of a moment in time than a trend. However, as author and urban studies professor Joel Kotkin points out, “Safety is a prerequisite for urban growth. I can’t see how cities can thrive if they’re unsafe.” Safety, even just its perception, is perhaps even more important as we age.

Given these challenges, coupled with the high cost of living in large cities, more people may opt to live in smaller cities or more dense suburban areas that provide some of the urban lifestyle benefits but without some of the current drawbacks of larger urban environments.

Places Where Healthy Aging is Getting Easier

If certain urban areas may be getting more difficult, where is it getting easier? The network of age-friendly states and communities can be a guide. There are nearly 500 communities covering nearly 1/3 of the country that have signed up for a process to make themselves age-friendly through an assessment, planning, implementation and evaluation. This process can lead to a number of potentially valuable interventions, ranging from better transportations options, improved housing and more age-friendly infrastructure in general, including dedicated walking and biking areas.

Places where healthy aging is getting easier tend to benefit from strong political leadership and available resources for older adults. Cities with strained budgets or other high priority issues, including public safety, may simply not have the bandwidth to make their places work better for an aging population. The Milken Institute’s Mayor’s Pledge is encouraging civic leaders to commit to purposeful, healthy aging at the metropolitan level and is another resource to identify leading places.

Springfield, MA
Springfield, MA has been focused on various age-friendly initiatives (Source NextAvenue via josepha/Flickr)

Springfield, MA, a city with a population of about 150,000, is an interesting example of a city that is operating on all cylinders as an attractive place for older people.  In this case, a mayor is helping to create a momentum for the city and bring together various stakeholders. It is the first city to complete the age-friendly trifecta: Age-Friendly City, Age-Friendly Health System and Dementia-Friendly city.

Implications

Pay attention. See what’s happening in your current environment. If it is becoming better as you age, appreciate your good fortune. If it the environment is getting more difficult, see what you can do to mitigate its effects. It may even become an opportunity to get to know your neighbors better. As crime became a greater concern in our old neighborhood, neighbors banded together to walk the streets and create a text thread for regular communication. This intervention helped.

If you are considering a move to a new place, it is valuable not just to get a sense of how it is today but, perhaps more importantly, in what ways is it changing and how quickly. It is also worth considering how sensitive a new place could be to sudden changes, such as with pandemics and climate change. This research is well worth doing.

We’ve learned a lot from the pandemic. It’s been a reminder of the importance of place. But it’s also a reminder of how our places can change for the worse, and quickly. Best to be prepared.

Ryan is an expert speaker in the aging industry. Want to have Ryan speak at your event? Find out more.


If you like this blog, you can subscribe to Ryan’s mailing list to be contacted with links to his latest blogs and other relevant content.

Subscribe to Ryan's Newsletter
Finding Your Kin - the importance of friendships as we age

Finding Your Kin: The Importance of Friendship as You Age

Approaching eighteen years ago, my wife and I were married over the July 4th holiday weekend in Southern California. Many made a vacation of it and we were fortunate to be surrounded by a large number of family and friends. Our parents’ “chosen family” – their collection of close friends – was also well-represented. I took note.

Both sets of our parents shared a similar life’s journey, moving from the Rust Belt – a mix of Pennsylvania and upper state New York – to California, with stops along the way. With each life chapter they picked up friends. From childhood, college, the military, work, neighbors, kids’ school, volunteering, church and more. Some of these friendships became as deep as blood lines. They became chosen family. The people you would choose as family if you could. Chosen family was necessary because their extended family – parents, siblings, aunts and uncles – were thousands of miles away.

In the cover article of the March issue of The Atlantic, The Nuclear Family was a Mistake, the author, David Brooks, outlines a narrative of family formation from the early days of our country to the present. In short, when our society was agrarian, our families were large – 8 or 9 kids was not uncommon – and extended family lived close by. Kids and family were necessary for the economic engine of farming. With industrialization, young people pursued economic opportunity and left for the city and burgeoning suburbs. They formed their own nuclear families, often far from extended family. Until 1850, roughly three-quarters of Americans lived with their kids and grandkids. By 1960, the ratio flipped, with 77.5% of all children living with two parents who were married, and apart from their extended family. Our parents fit into Brooks’s description.

Finding your kin - A nuclear family is great, but where’s the extended family?
A nuclear family is great, but where’s the extended family?

Along the course, Brooks argues, we traded family stability and loyalty for convenience, privacy and mobility, with important benefits but also often overlooked costs.

In short, the good news about our modern culture: you are on your own. You are free to choose your path in life. Manifest destiny. Carpe diem.

Conversely, the bad news about our modern culture: you are on your own. Life will surely knock you down and you may not have someone alongside to pick you up. It should come as no surprise that loneliness and depression are rising.

What’s one to do, particularly in a life that may span a century and be full of the inevitable ups and downs?

We need to find our people. Our kin. Our chosen family.

Friendships take chemistry and they take time. Researchers suggest that it takes about 50 hours to move from an acquaintance to a friend and as many as 200 hours to consider somebody a best friend. Chosen family are more akin to best friends. You should feel comfortable to reach out to them at any time and they should be responsive.

Many of us need chosen family throughout life, but some chapters are more critical than others. Some of us are caught in the sandwich generation: caring for kids and parents simultaneously. This can be extraordinarily stressful and often the burden falls on the adult daughter. My good friend, Anne Tumlinson, started and runs Daughterhood.org, which provides content and support for women supporting their parents. Daughterhood.org organizes circle groups that allow women with common challenges to come together in person and support each other. For some, this can be the beginning of finding chosen family at a key time.

Older adults often need chosen family, too. We are new to Austin but our neighbor in her early 80s, Colleen, has sought us out. She has asked my wife to stop in to help out around the house and to run some errands for her. I’ve provided some training on Google Sheets at her request. Maybe that’s just what a good neighbor does. Or maybe it’s the beginning of adding chosen family.

Finding your kin - Chosen family is particularly powerful when it spans generations
Chosen family is particularly powerful when it spans generations

In other situations, we need to be aware of people who need chosen family, and take action. Paige, part of our chosen family from our years in San Francisco, now lives in Richmond, Virginia. She and her young daughters have made a friendship with an older widow on their street, Miss Polly. Paige could tell that Miss Polly was lonely and so she started visiting with no set agenda. Just to say hi. These visits became more regular – at least weekly – and a special, intergenerational bond has formed.

Place matters. Chosen family – at least some of it – must be close enough so you can spend time together and be there for life’s various twists and turns. Finding your kin can happen virtually anywhere, but some places are easier than others. If you don’t have your kin and you’ve been trying for some time, maybe it’s time to change places. Maybe you are just not in the right place for you now.

I should mention that chosen family ought not to replace family but to augment it. While our family lives across the country and beyond, we’re still able to get our extended family together most years. A couple of years ago, we started a text thread that includes about a dozen family members across three generations. People share funny stories, memorable pictures and prayer requests. It’s a way to keep in touch even though we’re not physically close.

With two teenagers and an aspiring teenager, our immediate family is not planning any weddings in the near future. However, when the time comes, I’ll be eager to celebrate with our family, our chosen family and chosen family that we have yet to meet. There will be much to be grateful for.

Want to have Ryan speak at your event? Ryan is an expert speaker in the aging industry. Find out more.


If you like this blog, you can subscribe to Ryan’s mailing list to be contacted with links to his latest blogs and other relevant content.

Subscribe to Ryan's Newsletter
Are You in the Right Place? SmartLiving 360

Are You in the Right Place? The Importance of Place for Healthy Aging

With Christmas and New Year’s Day so close together, it is understandable that the transition from opening gifts with friends and family to reflecting on the past year and future year can happen rather fast. Inevitably, this reflection prompts the question: Am I where I think I should be? Or, said differently, am I in the right place? Research has shown through the “u-shaped” happiness curve that people tend to be less satisfied when they are younger and more satisfied when they are older. (See The Little Known Happiness Curve).

But there is an important related question: Am I in the right physical place?

For you, the answer may be a resounding “Yes!” I have friends of all ages and stages across the country for which this is the case. They love their cities, their neighborhoods, their friends and their homes. Their physical place is helping them thrive.

For many, however, the honest answer may not be as positive. Their physical environment may hold them back and a change, or at least a tweak, may be needed. But change is hard.

In fact, Americans are moving at an unprecedented pace. An unprecedented slow pace. For a country founded on exploration and adventure with the promise of a better future by moving to find it, we have become sedentary. Indeed, for a variety of reasons, less than 10% of Americans moved in the last year, about half of what it was in the 1950s, and the lowest since the U.S. has tracked this statistic.

An example of one person’s forever house
An example of one person’s forever house

Perhaps part of this slowdown is an underappreciation for the impact of place. Our place influences our relationships, our habits and, ultimately, our well-being. Research has shown that positive lifestyle habits, often influenced by our place, can add years to our lifespan and “healthspan.” (See Power of Place.)

After careful consideration, my family decided to move from Baltimore to Austin earlier this year. We were grateful to find buyers for our Baltimore house who fell in love; they saw the house as their “forever house.” They loved the walkable neighborhood, the charm of an old house built in the 1890s and an open backyard which included chickens.

But, in the Age of Longevity (see Are You Prepared to Live to 100?), the idea of living in one house forever has become less realistic. Although it avoids the hassle of moving, which we all can appreciate, it also underestimates that the fact that at different stages of life there may be better places for us than our forever house.

There are a number of reasons why a different place may in fact be a better place.

For those in growth mode, such as growing families, the desire for more space can be the driver. For single urbanites, the idea of leaving the hustle and bustle of the city can be anathema to their values. But marriage and a few kids later, the sudden allure of the spacious suburbs can be too much to deny.

Sometimes, it is a move to economic opportunity. Go west young man. Geographies of high growth and opportunity often lift all boats. This dynamic can appeal to people of all ages and life stages. For my parents, born and raised in the Rust Belt, their move to Northern California in the 1980s created opportunities unavailable to them in their hometowns.

Other times, a move is triggered by a shift to a more desirable lifestyle. Better weather. Less stuff to maintain. Shorter commute. Walkability. Less expense.

Some people are trading their forever house to be near walkable suburban town squares (Source: Adrmore, PA)
Some people are trading their forever house to be near walkable suburban town squares (Source: Adrmore, PA)

There are also times when a move happens based primarily on loss. Maybe family moved away. Perhaps the neighborhood has changed and you don’t know your neighbors. (See What Does it Mean to be a Neighbor?) Or, there’s a decline in health or loss of a spouse. A move to a new location can lessen social isolation and also provide a living environment that is better set up for aging-specific needs.

In all of these situations, a move may not be necessary. Sometimes the better place is the same place just oriented differently. Maybe it’s a remodel to create more space. Maybe it’s changing the design to be more age-friendly, such as adding slip resistant tiles and grab bars in the bathroom. Maybe it’s welcoming in a roommate to reduce housing costs. Maybe it’s cultivating a strong sense of community around you. (See Why Community Matters.) 

One of the psychological challenges we face is that we can be the last people to recognize a change for something better is needed. It can be easier to see changes that others should make. Unfortunately, this lack of self-awareness can be detrimental to our well-being.

Enjoy your time exchanging gifts and ringing in the new year. But don’t miss your opportunity to reflect on whether you and loved ones are in the right physical place. The decision to choose a new and better place may be the most valuable present you get – or give – this holiday season.

Want to have Ryan speak at your event? For speaking engagements or media inquiries, please contact Ryan.


If you like this blog, you can subscribe to Ryan’s mailing list to be contacted with links to his latest blogs and other relevant content.

Stay with friends - packed luggage

Stay With Friends

This weekend I am getting together with several of my closest friends. These are lifelong friends from college. We’ve been through a lot over the decades – from international adventures and weddings to the loss or physical decline of parents and other challenges life has put in our way. We live in different parts of the country, from Seattle to Philadelphia to New York City to Austin, so getting together in person is a rare treat.

These friendships weren’t forged in 45-minute coffee meetings or 60-minute lunch dates. These friendships weren’t driven by efficiency and ROI; they were forged by circumstance and inconvenience. They happened because we were roommates and we imposed on each other’s spaces and schedules. We sacrificed sleep for important conversations. We shared pizza at 2am when none of us were hungry but just wanted to be together. We planned practical jokes that took precedence over studying.

I may have done worse in a given class because of these misadventures, but I am certain I got more out of college.

Stay with friends - old friends on the beach
Some of the best friendships are forged through spontaneous conversations

But things are different now. We are busy. Not just in the family life stage busy, but in new modern life busy.

And people don’t answer their phones anymore. Maybe it’s just me, but I get sent to voicemail more often than in the past. This is a phenomenon among my good friends, too. It’s even happening with my mom. When my mom doesn’t take my calls, it gets my attention.

But I don’t think it’s me. As a society, we are becoming increasingly enslaved by efficiency: we’re plagued by busyness.

Writer Judith Shulevitz unpacks this issue in her article Why You Never See Your Friends Anymore in the Atlantic. Part of the dynamic is driven by hectic work schedules, either through the increasing prevalence of ad hoc demands of gig economy workers or the 24×7 nature of many work environments. She highlights how enterprise work tools, like Slack, Trello and online group calendaring, are now being used in the home to help manage the chaos. Somehow, the technology that promised to create freedom and time has done just the opposite. She suggests that many of us need to do a better job of creating boundaries and elevating the most important.

For example, have we reached a point that talking to a good friend requires a scheduled call, possibly weeks out?

My antidote: I impose. I travel frequently and my new mandate is to stay with friends wherever possible. It can be inconvenient – sometimes it’s nice to relax with room service and a movie in a hotel or to feel the accomplishment of being on top of my email – but there is no equivalent to catching up with a friend in person and in their own environment. And it can be inconvenient for those hosting, too. Life can be busy enough on a given weekday night, and making a bed and an extra meal can be a bit much.

Stay with friends - guest room
No one is going to confuse this with a contemporary hotel room, but you get to stay with friends

The experiment is going well so far. I’ve been able to drop in on birthday parties and neighborhood get-togethers, grab a late night beer and go on morning runs. I’ve been able to get a window into a friend’s life that Facebook, Instagram and text messaging won’t allow. I have some friends going through harder times, and spending time with them in person and off the clock has been a gift.

Sometimes, staying with friends hasn’t worked. When schedules haven’t aligned, the gesture of asking to stay with friends has signaled that these friends matter to me. In an age of disconnection, even that message can be valuable.

The reality is that proximity matters in relationships and in your overall well-being (see The Power of Place blog for more on the research.) As Susan Pinker reminds us in her book, The Village Effect: Why Face-to-Face Contact Matters, there is simply no adequate substitute for seeing people in person. Sometimes, you just need to take full advantage of when you are physically close to friends.

I urge you to consider staying with friends when you have the chance. And make it easier for people to stay with you. Make it known that you have space and would welcome a visit. Not everyone is as comfortable imposing as I am, bless my heart, and that nudge can make all the difference.

These considerations are important as we plan our lives and our investment in place and space, too. Do you have space for a friend or family member to visit? If not, what can be changed to make it possible? For example, can an office be converted to be a makeshift guest room? If you are looking to downsize, will your new space have room for guests? In our modern era of busyness, making it easy for people to impose can make all the difference to stay close to your friends.

So be careful. I may soon be coming to your city and you may be on my hit list.

In fact, it’s happening this weekend. For our reunion, we’re not staying in a hotel or at a resort. We’re staying at our friend’s home in the Philadelphia area. I don’t expect to get the surgeon general’s recommended hours of sleep or really much sleep at all. And I already know I won’t be taking many calls (sorry, Mom) because I’ll be with friends. That’s a good kind of busy.

Want to have Ryan speak at your event? For speaking engagements or media inquiries, please contact Ryan.

What Will You Do with Your 8,000 Days? Retirement Planning and the Importance of Place

What Will You Do with Your 8,000 Days?

8,000 days and growing. This is the number that Joe Coughlin, head of the MIT AgeLab, uses to estimate the amount of time we’re expected to live beyond the age of 65. It’s roughly the same period as from growing up to graduation from college (early 20s), post-college to mid-life (40s) and from mid-life to retirement age. This “retirement” stage represents 1/3 of adult life today.

It’s great to be living longer but I imagine few of us want to live them as Bill Murray did in the movie Groundhog Day. For 8,000 straight days?

A key question quickly emerges: what will you do with your 8,000 days?

It’s becoming increasingly relevant as more people wish to rewrite the script for retirement planning, particularly as compared to their parents. In some cases, it’s a necessity based on financial realities; in fact, more than half of U.S. workers plan to work past 65, the traditional retirement age. For others, it’s a sense that there is more to life than permanent leisure. The research bears this out: as Dr. Laura Carstensen, Director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, states in the Big Idea in 4 Minutes, “There isn’t anything in the psychology literature that suggests that it is good for people to go on vacation for decades.”

The general trend appears to be towards a more active retirement, according to Catherine Collinson, President of the nonprofit Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies. Work and time for personal pursuits or leisure are not mutually exclusive. This transition to a new stage of life is highly personalized, not as monolithic as the days of receiving a gold watch and moving to Florida.

The 2018 Class of Stanford’s DCI Program - An Effort to Reinvent Retirement Planning
The 2018 Class of Stanford’s DCI Program – An Effort to Reinvent Retirement Planning (Source: Stanford)

Some are looking to go back to school to figure it out. Literally. Five years ago, Stanford started a program called the Distinguished Careers Institute (DCI) that brings together a cohort of “highly accomplished individuals from all walks of life who are eager to transform themselves for roles with social impact at the local, national, and global levels.” As part of the program, these older students enroll in classes across the university. Harvard’s Advanced Leadership Initiative is a similar program with a particular focus on helping leaders’ transition from their main career to their next years of service. More universities across the country, including the University of Texas, are creating similar programs to support this group, often catering to their alumni.

Other resources are becoming available to help think through what to do with these 8,000 days. Designing Your Life was birthed out of an elective class at Stanford University. It applies designing thinking to one’s life (click here for previous SmartLiving 360 blog on the subject). The intended audience is recent college grads but it has struck a chord with older people, too. Faith-based thinkers are entering the conversation as well. Earlier this year, Jeff Haanen released An Uncommon Guide to Retirement: Finding God’s Purpose for the Next Season of Life. His book provides a basis for how to think about retirement in the context of faith and a specific approach to create a customized plan.

Another trend is to avoid age-segregation. That’s not to say that older people don’t wish to be around people like themselves but to do so exclusively is less desirable than it may have been in recent generations. Beyond personal preference, there is recognition that age-segregation is not good for one’s health: according to a Harris Poll, 74% of people believe that age-segregation is harmful. Another poll found that the vast majority of people (92%) believe intergenerational activities and relationships are particularly helpful in reducing loneliness for all ages.

Tomorrow, I’m excited to be moderating a discussion with a friend and mentor of mine, Marc Freedman. Marc has given these extra 8,000 days considerable thought as a gifted social entrepreneur and founder of Encore.org. He sees tremendous potential in the longevity revolution for both personal and societal good and envisions a particular opportunity through greater intergenerational connectivity as outlined in his book, How to Live Forever. And, as he enters his early 60s, planning for these 8,000 days is becoming less theoretical for him.

New Retirement Housing Models on College Campuses that Integrate Residents, Students & Faculty
New Retirement Housing Models on College Campuses that Integrate Residents, Students & Faculty (Source: NY Times)

One of things that Marc gets is the importance of proximity. Location, location, location. We can have the best vision for this life stage but place can either hold us back or propel us ahead.

Take housing. Margaritaville has made a splash with their Jimmy Buffett themed age-restricted communities in the southeast. They promise to inject fun and a sense of belonging – both areas often neglected in this life stage.  However, will Buffett songs hold their charm for 8,000 straight days??? And, if you value intergenerational relationships, it’s hard to see how living separate and far away from younger people is conducive to developing and nurturing such relationships.

Others may wish to “age in place”. However, if that increases social isolation and presents physical hazards then it may not be a very effective strategy, regardless of how long one has lived in a home.

Fortunately, new housing models are emerging at a range of price points and locations that offer more choice for people in this life stage. The Stories at Congressional Plaza, an intergenerational community co-developed by SmartLiving 360, is one example. There are also a growing number of retirement housing options near or affiliated with universities. I would expect these and other options, particularly ones that lean more heavily on technology to help people stay healthy, to accelerate in the years ahead.

Simply, it starts with a vision and a plan for how to lean into these 8,000 days – understanding there will need to be flexibility and contingency planning – and to make sure that one’s place and home is aligned with this vision.

No doubt, it’s not easy, but it’s probably better than the alternative of not living as long. As my friend, Paul Irving of the Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging, puts it, “We’re living longer, now what?” That’s for each of us to figure out.

Want to have Ryan speak at your event? For speaking engagements or media inquiries, please email [email protected].

The Opposite of Loneliness

The English language has its limitations. For example, take the word ‘love’. The English language uses one word which the Greeks needed seven words – ranging from eros (sexual love) to philia (friendship love) to agape (love of stranger) – to accurately describe.

A similar example is with the opposite of loneliness. Merriam-Webster defines lonely as “being without company”, “cut off from others”, “sad from being alone” or “producing a feeling of bleakness or desolation”.  According to the late researcher on loneliness and pioneer of social neuroscience, Dr. John Cacioppo, English doesn’t offer an adequate antonym. He suggested the closest proxy was “normal”, although that is clearly not a satisfactory solution. It’s too all-encompassing. It’s not descriptive enough.

Marina Keegan, a senior at Yale University at the time and captured in her New York Times bestselling posthumous collection of essays and stories The Opposite of Loneliness, didn’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness but she knew that’s what she wanted. She says:

We don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I could say that’s what I want in life. What I’m grateful and thankful to have found at Yale, and what I’m scared of losing when we wake up tomorrow and leave this place. 

It’s not quite love and it’s not quite community; it’s just this feeling that there are people, an abundance of people, who are in this together. Who are on your team. When the check is paid and you stay at the table. When it’s four a.m. and no one goes to bed. That night with the guitar. That night we can’t remember. That time we did, we went, we saw, we laughed, we felt. The hats.

Sadly, Keegan didn’t experience the opposite of loneliness in the real world as she died in a car accident just weeks before graduation.

Loneliness is Becoming Normal

Unfortunately, loneliness itself is becoming increasingly normal. Loneliness has doubled since the 1980s and now over 40% of adults report feeling lonely. Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, the former US Surgeon General, , in his Harvard Business Review cover story indicates that loneliness and weak social connections are associated with a reduction in lifespan similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day and even greater than that associated with obesity.

One the most powerful predictors of loneliness is living alone. This is particularly threatening for older adults as about 1/3 of Americans over 65 live alone and over 50% of women over 75 live alone.

But, of course, people living among others can still feel lonely. In this regard, Dr. Cacippo describes loneliness as “perceived isolation.” The viral video, #EatTogether, by a Canadian grocer illustrates that you can live among plenty of people in an apartment building and still feel disconnected.

This phenomenon is not unique to the United States. The UK has over 9 million people suffering from loneliness. More than a third of older adults report being overwhelmed by loneliness. A whopping 80% of British citizens over 85 live alone.

Japan is perhaps the most challenged with loneliness coupled with the highest percentage – about a 25% — of its citizens 65 or older. Demographics coupled with frayed families and communities have made it particularly difficult according to a recent in-depth article by the New York Times (“A Generation in Japan Faces a Lonely Death”). Sadly some people are even committing crimes to benefit from the social connection in prison.

How Can We Make The Opposite of Loneliness Normal Again

More seems to be known about increasing loneliness than what to do about it. The UK made a PR splash by creating a “Minister of Loneliness” in January. The anticipated focus of this ministry is to (a) create practices and programs that cultivate conversation, friendship and empathy: the founding of community allotments where solitary folks might gather, and (b) instigate knock-on-door initiatives, with volunteers targeting lonely souls. But it is an open debate as to whether we can institutionalize the elimination of loneliness.

Dr. Cacioppo’s research tested a number of methods and tactics, including many that did not demonstrate positive success. One successful tactic is to change how lonely people think about other people, having them understand what happens when their brain goes into self-preservation mode. Dr. Cacioppo’s research suggests that treating it like a disease is difficult because social connection requires a two-way relationship with others.

One simple yet significant approach is to more commonly practice kindness. Lonely people need an especially heavy dose of kindness. If more people were able to identify those lonely around us and choose to act kindly, say by an empathetic cashier to a lonely shopper at check-out, it would certainly help.

The Important Role of Where You Live

What is probably not mentioned enough in these conversations is the role of where we live in the context of loneliness. Living alone is a driver of loneliness. Fortunately, there are emerging, alternative housing models that help facilitate interaction and connection. For example, co-housing, a communal living approach that integrates shared spaces and a common house for community meals, is a popular housing option in Denmark with some successes in the US and has demonstrated to improve social connection, particularly across generations. EngAGE is an organization that integrates a whole person approach to creative living providing college-level programs in the arts, wellness and lifelong learning into existing communities.

Living in cities or in more dense suburbs (or “sub-urbs”) offers the prospect of a greater number of interactions with a diverse number of people. Susan Pinker, author of The Village Effect, points out that technology can be helpful in bringing people together for important face-to-face connection. In her research, she has found that it’s not just close friends that keep people from being lonely; it is also a broader network of connections, in concert with close friendships, that help people thrive.

At Smart Living 360, we believe location, design and an ethos of social connection can go a long way towards helping build sustained social connection. Walkable locations make it easy for people to see others. Accessible, communal spaces designed for formal and informal connection make it easier to get to know your neighbor. In addition, having a culture where social connection is important helps residents self-select to be part of such a community. Our Lifestyle Ambassador is central in our approach as he knows each resident by name and serves as a catalyst for creating community. We have witnessed the positive impact.

The Opposite of Loneliness is Our Responsibility

Technology advances, shifting family dynamics and changing demographics are all conspiring to make loneliness more common. However, as we all become increasingly aware of the risks to our health and well-being, it is important that we make lifestyle decisions to ward off the hazards of loneliness, particularly as we age. Fortunately, new, innovative housing models will make it easier to embrace the opposite of loneliness at every stage of life.

Place plays a significant yet often unacknowledged role in health and happiness. In his upcoming book Right Time, Right Place, Ryan explores more deeply the idea that where you live matters enormously – especially during the second half of your life. Find out more.

Perennials

Are you a Perennial?

What is a Perennial?

For garden enthusiasts, a perennial (plant) is a plant that lives for more than two years. Perennial flowers, like lilies, daisies and poppies, grow and bloom over the spring and summer, die every autumn and winter, and then return in the spring from their rootstock. These flowers are ever-blooming.

However, according to Gina Pell in her blog “Meet the Perennials”, a perennial can mean something else. She asserts that a Perennial is a type of person. A person that is “ever-blooming, knows what’s happening in the world, stays current with technology and has friends of all ages.” Perennials get involved, stay curious, mentor others, are passionate, compassionate, creative, collaborative and so on. Her examples include: Lady Gaga + Tony Bennett, Pharrell Williams, Ellen DeGeneres, Malala Yousafzai, Senator John McCain, among others.

Most important is a Perennial is not defined by age, but by a mindset and way of life. They push beyond traditional boundaries and don’t see life as a “one-dimensional timeline that runs from birth to death.”

From Demographics to Psychographics

Marketers tend to bucket consumers into categories. One of the most common categories is by age or generation. Millennials. Generation X. Boomers. Greatest Generation. Teenagers. 55+. Seniors. And, of course, each of these categories comes with their own stereotypes, like how all Millennials eat avocado toast or can’t afford their lifestyle (watch Millennial International video for a fun spoof on this).

Available consumer data makes demographic analysis easy. But what if the straight forward analysis is the wrong analysis? Consider this: I may have more in common – what I am drawn to purchase and consume — with my curious teenage niece on the opposite coast or my wise friend thirty years my senior in suburban Texas than I do with my fellow 40-somethings in the urban mid-Atlantic. Demographic analysis can’t spot Perennials.

This is why psychographics – the study and classification of people according to their attitudes, aspirations, and other psychological criteria – is becoming increasingly relevant for marketers.

When It Comes to Housing, Perennials Prefer Age Integration, not Segregation

Where do Perennials want to live?

Maybe it’s good to start to look at where they would not want to live. A recent article in the NY Times real estate section (“Resort-Style Living for Graying Boomers”) which highlights the growth of 55+ age restricted housing in the greater New York market may provide some insights by looking at the online comments section. Perennials offered plenty of opinions like:

  • “I don’t mind getting old, but the last thing I want to do is to surround myself with other old people. I like living in a neighborhood populated by Millennials and young families.”
  • (on living in an age-restricted resort community) “I couldn’t justify the cost and unsettling feeling of being surrounded by people who lived to go to the clubhouse daily, and made it seem that was the main reason for waking up every day… having moved, now I am with people of all ages with different outlooks, making life much more interesting.”
  • “I don’t want to live among a bunch of people my age or older. I’ve been in this house for 38 years and am watching a third generation of new babies. The younger folks do appreciate our knowledge and experience and I have all the tools any one needs to borrow and I keep with the changing mores just talking to them.”

Perennials see the benefits of living in the cities and more dense suburban areas – “sub-urban” according to Smart Growth America describes – that bring people together of different backgrounds and talents all within close proximity of desirable amenities.

It’s a Good Time to be an (Older) Perennial

At some point, physical needs and accommodations become important and relevant factors in housing for older Perennials. Fortunately, a number of trends are in favor of Perennials. One, the World Health Organization (WHO) has launched a global Age-Friendly cities and communities initiative and has spurred hundreds of cities and communities to make their environments more accommodating for people of all ages. Second, technology – as we have looked at previously – is making it easier and easier to have services delivered on an as needed basis and cost-effectively. Third, substantial real estate development in walkable, vibrant areas is creating a swath of new residential options.

At Smart Living 360, we have a residential model that incorporates elements of a walkable location, smart design and sense of community to attract an intergenerational mix of people, including Perennials, and people like it.

So, Are you a Perennial?

Maybe Gina Pell is right. Maybe for most of us how we think and what we value should matter more than what generation we are part of. Maybe we may have more in common across generations than within them.

Maybe even “perennial” will more commonly be used to describe a type of person than a type of flower. Regardless, it should be associated with something that is ever-blooming and aspiring for more.