If you’re over 50, according to the non-profit encore.org group, there’s a good chance you’re living in an age bubble. To live in this bubble means you rarely have meaningful interactions or conversations with someone who is more than 20 years younger than you who are not a family member.
So why is this so important? According to research, age segregation contributes to social isolation, reinforcing stereotypes and perpetuating isolation. A Harvard Study of Adult Development discovered that people in middle age and beyond who develop, and care for, the next generation are three times more likely to be happy as those who don’t. In addition to impacting your happiness, it’s simply bad for your overall health.
An eye-opening seven question quiz created by the non-profit’s Generation to Generation initiative (Gen2Gen) will easily tell you if you’re living in an age bubble. So far their research has found that sadly, only six percent of Americans over age 60 have discussed important matters over the past six months with someone younger than 36 who was not a relative.
Liz and Don, an over-60 suburban Dallas couple, took the quiz and were found to be role models for age-integrated living. “I’m not surprised,” said 38-year-old Jon who met the couple during a jury selection venture a few years ago. It’s a friendship that has blossomed to where at least monthly, Jon goes to their home to discuss the latest goings on in his life and theirs. “I thoroughly enjoy their company,” he admits. “I feel very comfortable with them. We share an enthusiasm for our community and they broaden my perspective on life. I always learn something.” Likewise, Liz and Don feel that Jon brings a young perspective to their thinking and helps to keep them current and vital.
Experts agree that just like having friends with diverse cultural backgrounds enriches you, the same can be said for having friends from different generations. Also, studies have found that as we get older, having good relationships with friends is actually more important to our psychological well-being than having good relationships with family members. Friends your own age may relate more closely, but they can also take a lot for granted because you’re on familiar ground with them. Younger friends ask a lot of questions, which can stir up memories and get you thinking about things in a new way.
Research has found that the young can pass some of their vigor onto the elderly, improving their companion’s cognitive abilities and vascular health. While hanging out with a 30-something may not get an older person the same health benefits, it’s possible that some of the youthful passion and zeal for life possessed by your younger friend could rub off on you—and that’s not a bad thing.
Making younger friends also helps you to keep up on current music trends and pop culture and can even influence more progressive views on marriage, sexuality and other controversial topics. Members of the younger generation, on the other hand, may learn from their elders some of the historical significance of today’s privileges—like the right to vote or access to higher education or gender equality.
The bottom line is, that study after study shows that having a group of friends is linked to living a longer and healthier life. The Nurses’ Health Study from Harvard Medical School found that the more friends women had, the less likely they were to develop physical problems as they aged. The results were so significant that the researchers concluded that not having close friends is as detrimental to our health as smoking or obesity.
And while having friends of any age is helpful, having a few younger friends may be of particular value because they are more likely to be active and in good health, buoying their older companions. When you have friends of differing age groups, you are less likely to stereotype based on age and generation. These friendships can erase stereotypes and false assumptions and widen your perspective. Plus, who doesn’t want to live a healthier and mentally active life for as long as they can?
To see if you’re in danger of living in an age bubble, take the simple, seven question quiz “Are You Living in An Age Bubble?”. Your results might surprise you!
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