Wendy Lustbader, Life Gets Better; The Unexpected Pleasures of Growing Older (New York: Penguin, 2011), 243pp.
In this myth-buster of a book, Wendy Lustbader deconstructs the glorification of youth and the negative stereotypes about aging to affirm what more and more social scientific studies have documented — that the latter years of life can be the most satisfying years of all in almost every way except for our diminishing physical capacities. A 2008 survey of 340,000 Americans, for example, found that, on average, older people are happier than younger people. Lustbader has been a social worker and psychotherapist who's worked with senior citizens for thirty years. She's also kept a journal since the fifth grade. In this book she combines her personal and professional wisdom to document the very real pleasures of growing older. Lustbader incorporates a wide variety of sources — interviews, anecdotes from her clinical practice, informal conversations and observations with friends, scientific research, and her own personal experiences of aging.
The book is highly anecdotal; Lustbader allows the elderly to share their own stories about aging. She organizes the book into three major sections, each of which has eight chapters. Under the idea of "Hope" are chapters on self-knowledge, gratitude, the great leveling, relationships, loss, spirituality, generosity, and giving/receiving. Part Two on "Transformation" considers time, hindsight, decisions, detours, resilience, coherence, stories, and changing course. The third section about "Peace" explores courage, the body, attitude, slowing down, composure, beginner's mind, the heart's desire, and what matters most. As we grow older we're more comfortable with compromise, more accustomed to ambiguity, able to face success and failure with wiser perspectives, and more willing and able to enjoy the present moment. In the last chapter Lustbader draws upon the scriptures of her Jewish heritage: "Lord, teach us to number our days that we might present to Thee a heart of wisdom" (Psalm 90:12). I enjoyed this book, and recommend it along with a similar one that extols the wisdom of the elderly: Karl Pillemer's 30 Lessons for Living; Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans, based upon his scientific study at Cornell University of a thousand elderly Americans.