According to research, most adults feel 20% younger than their actual age.
This past Thanksgiving, I asked my mother how old she was in her head. She didn’t pause, didn’t look up, didn’t even ask me to repeat the question, which would have been natural, given that it was both syntactically awkward and a little odd. We were in my brother’s dining room, setting the table. My mother folded another napkin. “Forty-five,” she said.
She is 76.
— The Puzzling Gap Between How Old You Are and How Old You Think You Are, by Jennifer Senior at The Atlantic.
I’m conflicted about the premise of this article. It makes sense, but it also seems possibly ageist. Like being old is bad so we are in denial about our age and think we’re younger than we really are.
I’m 61. I don’t have a precise number for how old I am in my head, but 80% of 61 is 48, and that feels about right. I feel like I’m somewhere in the 36-52-year-old range. It helps that I’m healthy and fit.1
As a number, 61 seems elderly to me, but I think that’s just my internal conditioning growing up. Internalized ageism. Rather than think of myself as being younger than I am, I try to redefine what my age means. It means whatever I want it to mean, and whatever my mind and body are capable of making it mean.
But that will only work for a while. Twenty-five years ago, I was about the same as I am today, only with a crappier phone. In 25 years, I will be an old man, and no amount of positive thinking will change that.
That’s weird for me to say, because I used to be a fat, sedentary, junk-food-eating chainsmoker. I am not intending here to disparage fat, sedentary, junk-food-eating chainsmokers, except to say they tend not to be healthy when they are 61 years old. ↩︎