Senior citizens today: banned to paradise

Anyone who thinks being a senior citizen means continuing down familiar paths is wrong. Elderly people undergo comprehensive transformations. The change of numerous “external” living conditions – their own retirement and/or that of their partner, the loss/death of people they are close to, late divorces, the “children” leaving home – forces older people to completely alter their lives and everyday routines. Wives have to reckon with their household now being taken over by their husbands, who intervene in the last remaining “business” (more or less productively); the mother role starts to teeter when the last child has left the home; the loss or throwing out of one’s partner forces ones to again be on the lookout for a (younger?) companion. This transition is tough for everyone and puts their complete lifestyle to the test.

But despite the difficulties they have coping with these changes and creating a new, stabilizing framework for everyday life, many elderly people are better off today than ever before. They have an entire phase of life ahead of them, in which they can live off what they have set aside (retirement funds, savings, life insurance, etc.).

Like “children” raised in an anti-authoritarian way, “old people” are now confronted with the problem of being able to do whatever they want every day. They have to establish a routine themselves, no longer having recourse to a nine-to-five job. Elderly people today live in conditions which in earlier times seemed like paradise on earth. Not having to go to work or perform household chores, and having plenty of time and money, they can realize their (delayed) dreams and desires.

While in earlier times people were motivated to endure lives of deprivation due to the prospect of rewards and entering paradise in the other world, today it is possible in this world – namely, as a senior citizen – to attain paradise. Our culture says: experience joys that used to be reserved for the other world in this one. Today people divide up their lives like cash savings plans – into a saving part, and an allocation part. Today: working, toiling, enduring deprivations. Tomorrow (as a senior citizen): traveling, savoring the delights of life, being free.

But those who are actually in this situation have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, they have many possibilities of taking advantage of this “gift of life” by pursuing hobbies, traveling, getting further education, etc. But on the other hand, they feel a lot of pressure to fill their lives with meaning every day and to “find themselves.”

© 2015 rheingold