George Lorenzo is a freelance writer, editor, researcher, designer and publisher with more than 30 years of experience. In addition to his independent work in the field of online higher education and community colleges (www.edpath.com) and his work freelancing for a variety of publishers (http://www.understandingxyz.com), he has branched out into studying and writing about issues related to older adults through his “by George” blog (https://uxyzblog.com/).
1. Tell us about your autodidactic study called the “Philosophy, Psychology, Sociology and Spirituality of Aging.”
A little over two years ago I wrote a feature article for Fast Company headlined “Why Boomers Refuse to Retire.” As a 62-year-old boomer at the time, the research and interviews I conducted for that piece generated a keener interest in the overall issues and trends related to older adults. I began to get a handle on this broad topic via a college textbook I have combed through, Aging: Concepts and Controversies (8th edition), by Harry R. Moody and Jennifer R. Sasser. From there I started to load up my Kindle with many more aging-related books that I continue to read. I’m also all over the Internet digging up studies and articles, and watching lectures on YouTube, about growing old.
All this has led to what I call the “philosophy, psychology, sociology, and spirituality of aging.” To define what this all means is an extraordinarily complex undertaking that would require a book by itself. The succinct version goes something like this: The philosophical focus is on enhancing the meaning and purpose in our lives as we age – through our work, through contemplation and through self-transcendence. The psychology of aging deals primarily with how to become more authentic as we age, how to further develop a mental well-being that is most consistent with who we truly are as individuals. The sociological parts deal with the different generations and how we interact with each other both face-to-face and online. Not everyone, for instance, desires more social interaction as we age. Spirituality, in my mind, relates to how we continue to develop wisdom about the world and how to further explore notions of self-transcendence. Many of these resources are linked to or mentioned in the posts I have been writing for the “by George” blog.
2. What are your biggest findings in your study that you believe defy conventional thinking?
Lately I’m seeing lots of reporting about loneliness and how it affects older adults in extremely negative ways. I have some thoughts and opinions on loneliness in old age that could be considered unconventional, but it’s always a good idea to bear in mind that anomalies, black swans, individualist ideals, diverse opinions, etc., all play into the mix of things. A great deal of the scientific research on loneliness and isolation strongly suggests that loneliness contributes to an early demise, with headlines proclaiming that loneliness in old age is a poor-health epidemic worse than smoking cigarettes and obesity. This kind of information is really not new. Back in 2008, in an influential, well-written and researched book, “Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection,” past president of the Association for Psychological Science John T. Cacioppo and Harvard University Press Science Editor William Patrick point to numerous scientific studies that show sound evidence proving that extended periods of social isolation are extraordinarily detrimental to one’s health. However, whenever I see headlines boldly professing the ill-effects of loneliness, I cringe a little, because I feel it would be much more effective to talk about how to accept loneliness as a means to actually improve your well-being.
Thomas Moore wrote an excellent chapter on loneliness in his recent book “Ageless Soul: Living a Full Life with Joy and Purpose.” He starts by describing loneliness as a discomforting feeling with a purpose that could be pointing you toward what you really need. “Loneliness may take us into the space needed to reflect on the things that matter instead of being occupied all the time,” he writes. “Loneliness may be a hint at a cure for the incessant activity people engage in that is often empty and pointless.” I wrote a relatively long blog post that refers to many of the resources on this topic headlined “Why Consistent Isolation Does Not Have to Kill You, Despite What the Research Says.” It was one of my more popular articles by a wide margin, which makes me believe this is an important issue crying out for better solutions.
3. One idea you propose is that continuing to work instead of retiring is good for your health and well-being. Do you feel the majority of society can agree with this statement?
Additionally, there are numerous articles and reports about how we should continue working into our 80s, if capable, to maintain optimal mental and physical health. I have mixed feelings about this. While I agree that meaningful and purposeful work contributes to one’s overall better well-being, I also strongly believe that working past the typical retirement age of 65 requires that whatever it is you’re doing be meaningful and purposeful. Most people work at jobs they are not truly engaged in and only tolerate to pay the bills. Hopefully, if you are in that kind of work environment, you can exit it by the time you reach 65, and preferably earlier. A modern voice whom I like to refer to about this is “practical philosopher” Andrew Taggert. He has been writing some very interesting posts listed under the banner of “Total Work” about how we have been programmed to place too much emphasis on work as opposed to living a more contemplative life and pursuing more leisure and nature- and art- oriented experiences as we grow older.