In this current day and age, humans are living an average of thirty years longer than those in the previous century. What to do with all those extra years of living? In A LONG BRIGHT FUTURE, Laura Carstensen, the founding director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, has envisioned a new approach to life, one that allows us to put to best use the extra years we have gained. She calls for nothing less than a major reenvisioning of our life cycle, one that allows for more flexibility and leisure throughout our younger years and a more active, productive golden age.
By using Carstensen’s framework of four basic principles—envision, design, diversify and invest—we can prepare for, and take advantage of , our very long lives. What once was a sprint will now be a marathon. We need to completely transform our lifetime work cycle to incorporate our bonus years throughout our lives. This includes how we handle Social Security, Medicare and our 401k. Carstensen states, “On average, people nowadays who make it to sixty-five can expect to live another eighteen years. People who can work—and would enjoy doing so—are nevertheless stepping aside at sixty-five because it’s the social norm to do so. We are losing an incredible amount of skill and experience simply because of this outdated standard”.
The social aspects of longevity shouldn’t be ignored. Nobody wants to die alone, but nobody really want to live alone either. To ensure that we have large, deep support systems throughout our lives, Carstensen advocates fostering more connections across generations—something that should benefit from the fact that, increasingly, more generations of families will be alive at the same time.
Overall, A LONG BRIGHT FUTURE is one of the best tools that we have to decipher the ups and downs of living beyond what our ancestors did. Everyone has a different path in life and we all need each other to travel down it. Challenge “old age” as long as possible but be smart about how to do it.