Jan Scruggs
Memorial founder

Jan Scruggs

Founder and president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.

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A spark for life

Q: For years, we were told that human brains peaked in their 20s, and then came a slow, downhill slide. But a new book ("The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain") says that researchers, thanks to high-tech brain imaging, are proving that's all wrong. In fact, we get smarter, calmer and happier in middle age, defined as lasting into the 60s. Has this been your experience? Are there aspects of age that are far more positive than you expected?

"I'm very pleased with each advancing year. It stems back to when I was forty. I was a bit upset about reaching that milestone, but an older friend consoled me. 'Don't complain about growing old - many, many people do not have that privilege.'"
-- Earl Warren, Former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court


I am certainly calmer and happier in my middle years. I did, however, turn 60 in March, celebrating it awaiting open heart surgery. While displeased to be in a hospital, I was actually quite calm through the entire episode. Having survived combat while a soldier in Vietnam also takes the edge off of a lot of stressful situations. If no one is shooting at me I can usually stay pretty calm, and no one has shot at me since 1970!

There is something to being happier and calmer in middle age. After all, the toughest times are completed. We have generally straightened out -- or learned to live with -- our careers. We tend to have our lifestyle choices set at my age, with kids and/or grandkids or living happily unattached spousewise. There you go -- two areas where there is less stress leading to a higher degree of overall life satisfaction thereby compensating for being old.

The earlier years of adulthood were far more stressful than now. The brain reaches a certain point of acceptable functioning despite being overloaded with decades of information. It is generally accepted that age and wisdom actually coincide. This is true if for no other reason than you have made enough unwise decisions that wisdom must therefore flow from your errors.

What I do strive for is enthusiasm in life. Whatever I am doing, from debating someone, to riding a bike, to watching a TV show, I just go full tilt -- all the way. There is a quote worth sharing by Aldous Huxley: "The secret of genius is to carry the spirit of the child into old age," which means never losing your enthusiasm.

A couple of weeks ago, I went to Gettysburg to ride a bike through the battlefield and enjoy this quaint little rural town. I was amazed to see yard signs asking people to
"Stop the Casino." I did some research finding that this was a hot issue with many historians and others involved.

I became an enthusiastic partisan and just wrote a piece lambasting the idea. The teachable moment here is the importance of having enthusiasm and a spark for life -- an interest in the world we live in. These are the qualities that my usually unwary mentors have taught me.

We all need to keep involved in our communities -- with our families, churches , motorcycle clubs, whatever else. Involvement with life is what keeps a person useful and contributing. It also makes you more interesting!

So, there you go, readers! Learn from a smarter, calmer and happier 60-year-old male who is actually convinced that the best of life is ahead!

By Jan Scruggs  |  August 23, 2010; 12:00 AM ET  | Category:  Success and age Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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