A New Map of Life for Aging

with Laura Carstensen,

Founding Director, Stanford Center on Longevity, Stanford University

This week on the Art of Aging, host Michael Hughes welcomes Laura Carstensen, a professor of psychology at Stanford University and founding director of the Stanford Center on Longevity. During the episode, Mike and Laura discuss the challenges and opportunities of aging, societal perceptions of older individuals, and the need for a new approach to work and education. Laura shares personal experiences and emphasizes the importance of positive stories about aging, the joy of giving back, and the value of lived experiences, and more.
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Highlights from this week’s conversation include:

  • Laura’s Background and Passion for Longevity (2:12)
  • Challenges of Aging (3:32)
  • Health and Societal Perceptions (4:14)
  • Rethinking Work and Education (7:24)
  • Transcending Life Stages (14:30)
  • The New Map of Life (17:12)
  • The Age Wave (24:03)
  • Benefits of Lived Experience (00:26:31)
  • Challenges and Opportunities of Aging (31:09)
  • Changing Societal Mindset (34:27)
  • Abundant Aging Questions for Laura (38:14)
  • Final Thoughts and Takeaways (41:50)


Abundant Aging is a podcast series presented by United Church Homes. These shows offer ideas, information, and inspiration on how to improve our lives as we grow older. To learn more and to subscribe to the show, visit abundantagingpodcast.com


Michael Hughes 00:07
Hello and welcome to The Art of Aging which is part of the abundant aging podcast series from United Church Homes. On this show, we look at what it means to age in America and in other places around the world with positive and empowering conversations that challenge, encourage and inspire everyone everywhere, as we say, age with abundance. Today I am so pleased to welcome Laura Carstensen to the show. Laura is professor of psychology at Stanford University, where she is the fairleigh s Dickinson jr professor of public policy and founding director of the Stanford Center on Longevity and her research on the theoretical and empirical study of motivational cognitive and emotional aspects of aging has been funded by the National Institute on Aging. without interruption for more than 30 years, man, you’re just knocking up the hitch or as an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She served on the MacArthur Foundation’s Research Network on an aging society and was a commissioner on the global roadmap for healthy longevity. Her awards include a Guggenheim Fellowship, the climber award, the Richard Kalish award for innovative research and distinguished mentors awards from both the journal Gerontological Society of America and the American Psychological Association. She is of course an author, her book on bright future happiness, health and financial security in an age of increased lung longevity available now. Laura received her BS from the University of Rochester and her PhD in Clinical Psychology from West Virginia University. Laura, welcome to the show.

Laura Carstensen 01:48
Thank you so much for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Michael Hughes 01:52
And just a reminder for listeners that this podcast series is sponsored by United Church homes is the Ruth Frost Parker center for abundant aging. To learn more about the center, including our annual symposium in October of each year, visit United Church homes.org backslash Parker hyphen center. Alright, so Laura, I gotta say, you know, you’ve been at this for a minute. I mean, this is it’s, I mean, I find this area fascinating. What do you find fascinating, what’s driving your passion for this work?

Laura Carstensen 02:25
My passion is really driven by a recognition of the opportunity that we have to sort of recraft life to really think about what a long life can look like, and how to best yours, how to best use added years of life. So we nearly doubled the length of our lives in the 20th century. And what this means is that there’s a mismatch between the length of our lives and the worlds into which we are born and how prepared they are to support century long lives. You know, the bottom line is they’re not. So we’re born into worlds that were literally built by and for young people. And what we need to do is to rapidly build a new world, a revised world that supports people all the way through 100, and sometimes beyond. That’s the challenge. And a lot of people are worried about aging societies and aging individuals. And I share many concerns. But my passion to answer your question in this long winded way, is that we also have an unprecedented opportunity. And the opportunities to me outweigh the challenges. I have great confidence in science and technology and being able to better support longer lives to find cures for the diseases afflicting older people. I worry that we aren’t focusing enough on the great gift that longer lives are and how we can use these years to improve not just the quality of life and old age, but the quality of life all the way through.

Michael Hughes 04:14
Yeah, and so it’s this concept of not just having years, but more healthy years. And so, look, people are worried about things like dementia and Alzheimer’s. And I think that the estimate is that if you’re age 65 Plus, your chances of getting Alzheimer’s are 10%. And you know, when I say that to people, they actually think wow, that’s low. I thought that that’s just an inevitable part of aging. So it’s and by the way, the great strides are being made in in Alzheimer’s, but it sounds like the greater challenge is not so much that the medical world will find it find a way to us for us to have more of these healthy years but just really the societal, at least in Western society. You know, just this trope, this reaction, this just this out. data, the notion of older people as just a homogenous group that need to be taken care of.

Laura Carstensen 05:07
Right? Right. And again, this is the greatest danger, we squander the gift, these extra years instead of making use of them. But people do have a lot of worry and concern. And again, it’s well justified. Dementia is a horrible disease that affects not only individuals, but their families. But as you say, the majority of people will never get it. And you know, you said 10% of people 65 and older, it’s actually 3%, between 60 and 70. And then it goes to something like 5%, the issue is, it goes up with age. So where you see higher rates as in people 85 years of age and older, the rates are 38%. Now, again, that’s nothing any of us should feel easy about, we should be concerned. On the other hand, that means that 62% of us won’t ever get dementia. And so thinking of dementia, as the thing that we have, you know, to face as we get older, is just inaccurate. And we need to focus on cures for diseases, but we also need to focus on, again, the opportunities that people have with longer healthy lives.

Michael Hughes 06:27
Yeah, and I think, you know, more and more, I mean, I’m, I’m really privileged to be in the work that I am now, because, you know, I have, I’ve had more opportunities to meet and get to know people who are in their 90s. And there are hundreds, and then, you know, it just seems like society either says, you know, when you’re there, you’re just Dottie, or, or you have to do these extraordinary things to prove that you’re still like skydiving and things like that. But we also have this notion of just people and their agency, with their desires, with their curiosity, with everything that kind of just drives them forward. It’s just these more years of life, I just think about all the implications it has for just the systemic systems that we have. I mean, let’s take work, for example, you know, you have this notion of a beginning, middle and to your career, right, then this notion of retirement, but I don’t think that’s healthy aging. You

Laura Carstensen 07:26
I’ve been encouraging people lately to retire early. And often, that is, just stretching out our working lives. So that we work more years, but we also take breaks throughout our working lives. sabbaticals, time to retrain, time to try different things, time to just take a break and rest. I think our model of work, again, is built on these lives that are half as long as the ones that we have today. So if life expectancy is 50, you don’t have a lot of time to do a lot of different things in your life, you’re gonna get an education, you’re going to find a mate, a partner to live your life with, you might have a couple kids, you’re going to work like a dog to support them. And then bingo, you retire, and you’re dead. I mean, that’s, that’s the life course, not a lot of time. So what we can do now is to think of how we will work for 100 years. And that, that allows us also to relieve ourselves of some of the pressure of saving enough money in a working career 40 years to not work for another 3040 years, 50 years? You know, we That’s an enormous challenge. And most people simply can’t, you can’t deal with it, they can’t make that challenge. And so if we thought instead about working more and less at different times in our lives, it would also address some of the financial pressure.

Michael Hughes 08:55
And how does that work with education LoRa? I mean, if we think about just this, I think that I think everyone’s desired path, as we live our lives, is to do more of the things that we want, versus more of the things that we have to do. So if we’re working and if we’re talking about someone who you know, is, is you know, growing up in a town where there’s a single industry that work in that industry, it has a beginning, middle and an end, it’s kind of tough to sort of say, now I have to restart or restarting hasn’t become a habit yet. So how does education play a role there?

Laura Carstensen 09:30
Yeah. Well, we also need to integrate education throughout our lives. Again, if we’re going to live to be 100. The idea that we finish our education at 20 doesn’t make a lot of sense. And it also clearly doesn’t make a lot of sense for working lives because work changes and the demands on us change. So what we need to do is to find a way to integrate education and work together. But again, think of a life course where you work for six months and then you take a month off, and you take a course. And then you go back to that job. So what we’ll do is have a much more fluid back and forth between work and education. So that it doesn’t feel like a stark change. It’s really hard now for people, if you retire, let’s say, not even retire, let’s say you lose your job at 50. Most people who lose their job at 50 never get back into the workforce. And that’s the reflection of a number of different factors like ageism, but also that it’s just hard as you’re saying, it’s hard to go back and say, Now I’m going to start something very different, brand new. But if we were comfortable with learning and changing and revising our jobs throughout our lives, then that would feel much more comfortable to us and much more normal, and it would be better for our brains and our physical health.

Michael Hughes 10:52
Yeah. And it’s almost like it’s even if you choose to evolve yourself in the career that you have. Now, it’s kind of, you know, you become you sort of become proficient to a certain level. And then maybe if you’re working in an organization where you have other people, then you hand that off to the other person, I think, as a CEO, to be once it’s like, yeah, my job is to learn the next thing in this industry, and then teach that to my people. So they can take it over and then go off to learn the next thing. And that’s a really hopeful, yeah, journey, you know, yeah,

Laura Carstensen 11:23
yeah. And that’s a really nice model for CEOs. Unfortunately, in most companies, you’re the CEO, and then it’s up and out, which is ridiculous for the company. Not

Michael Hughes 11:33
CEOs do. But

Laura Carstensen 11:36
this is also true, this is also true. But we do tend to have linear paths through our careers now. And again, I think that would be great if that changed a little bit. So you’re getting better and better at one thing, you might shift to a very novel kind of a job or an organization where you’re applying some of the expertise you have, but learning something new. And I think that’s a great model, again, both for contributions and creativity, as well as cognitive health. Right? People like to say that young people are the creative ones in life. And there’s really not any evidence that creativity declines with age. But people believe it does. I would guess, just in I don’t know, studies on this, but my best guess is that the most creative thinking would come from taking your deep expertise that you’ve been applying in one area, and now bring that deep expertise to a related, but different kind of a challenge. Yeah, that’s where you really just start to see sparks totally

Michael Hughes 12:51
agree with that. And I just want to give you a sort of an anecdote here is that, you know, we really do embrace Human Centered Design and United Church homes. And it’s a way of close cooperation with the people you aim to serve. And we started this investigation, we’re just really trying to win over folks at United Church homes by starting this with our residents. So we have these two day we call these idea thorns where we will, I will offer up like $1,000 grants for the best ideas to enhance resident life in the community, and will put people through two days of extra day, the first day would be dreaming color, wild ideas, how big could they get. And then the second day is really more about reductive thinking where we start to qualify them under constraints, and we improve them and I’ll just give the residents $1,000 and then go off and have a kinder, or they can actually do the idea, right? And come up with wonderful ideas. And but I’m just saying I do that same workshop with comparatively younger people. And the creative energy that I feel the vibe, it’s just the same. It’s the same people from the 90s that it isn’t that. So that’s a very hopeful story, and supports your thesis of just, you know, just these opportunities to continue to be a force and with the, with this cushion of lived experience that I think is going to be a huge untapped resource. Right, right. Right.

Laura Carstensen 14:16
I’m with you. 100% 100%. Yes.

Michael Hughes 14:19
When we think about just under that model, we’re suddenly wondering, do we then just translate transcend life stages, okay. Like we could talk about that. You’re talking about the new map of life. But the current map of life is that I’m a baby. I’m a toddler. I’m a child. I’m an adolescent. I am an adult. I’m middle aged. You know, do you see a future where it will just be adolescence for longer or will it be middle aged for longer? I mean, what do you think about that?

Laura Carstensen 14:53
Yeah, there’s a lot of thinking we need to do about where to put the 30 extra years. Once we were handed, so far, we tacked them all on at the end, and only old age got longer. I’ve been asking people for years, if you could make any stage in life longer, or you could put added years anywhere you wanted, where would you put them, and no one has ever said I would make old age longer. But that’s what we have done so far. So we have used these years in the least imaginative way possible. And it’s a way that puts a lot of strain on societal institutions and families and individuals to prepare for these really long stretches of life. But I like the idea of moving away from stages, and using Algiers so that we have more flexibility, the model that you just described, which clearly is the prevailing model of human development as we go through stages. And the idea of stages, though, is that you never go backwards. You’re not a child, and then you become a toddler. Again, you’re not middle aged, and then you become a young adult. But I think we might want to rethink that so that we use these longer lives, to be able to have more flexibility, and what we do when so today, you’re not expected to be a student. When you’re 60, why not? So we could begin to think of those things and explore. We think of that as, as a youthful kind of an exercise, go trekking around the world and see new things and explore places that you should do in your 20s. Well, why? No, maybe, but maybe you want to do that in your 60s, and do a little of it in your 20s and a little of it later. So I would like us, instead of thinking of a way to come up with a new script that’s relatively rigid, to instead say, what are the different routes we could take with this new map of life.

Michael Hughes 17:03
And that’s it. So I’m a terrible interviewer, because I should have just asked you at the beginning to explain what this new map of life is.

Laura Carstensen 17:11
Thank you, okay. We founded the Center on Longevity in 2007, we found that based on three different divisions, one was called Mind which included cognition, but also a sense of emotion, a well being and purpose. One is mobility. But that was really functional health, and the other was financial security. And we thought, These are three legs of a stool, and if we could share them all up, we’d be good to go. You know, people will do well and old age, I still think there’s a lot of truth to that. But what we found in the first, you know, decade of our work was that every time we went to work on a project within one of those areas, it drew on the others, you have a really hard time gaining and sustaining financial security if you’re in poor health, or if you are cognitively impaired. And if you’re cognitively impaired, you’re more likely to suffer physically in other ways. So they weren’t cleanly divided. And the reason we had done that early on is we were encouraged by our friends and colleagues around the world and at the university to focus. I mean, I hear the voices still in my head saying LoRa, you have to focus, you know, you can’t do everything you got to say, and we’re just going to do A, B, and C, and you can’t do it all. And I really took that to heart. And I believed it and followed it for a long time. And one morning, I woke up and I thought to myself, we need to boil the ocean. With apologies to the climate scientists, we do need to do it all. And it’s because it’s all connected. And it’s not just as individuals connected, it’s also societal structures, again, social norms that tell us when we’re going to do things and not do things. We need to really rethink how we live our lives. And we can’t just say we’re going to do something different financially. We can’t just say we’re going to do it differently in terms of our careers, unless we think about other parts of that, like family, education, and environmental support for us. So we have to think about all of it. And it was that realization that really pushed us toward the new map of life. The last sort of experience that my colleagues had that really made us reconsider broadly, what we were doing is we had done a survey in conjunction with Time Magazine. And one of the questions we asked people was what are your goals and dreams for living to 100 Top two responses were, I hope I don’t have dementia. And I hope I haven’t run out of money. And I looked at those findings and thought, we need to raise that bar. Right? Of course, we need to do those things. But that shouldn’t be the top of the list of our dreams, you know, we are going to go at that we have to do that. Yes. But if we only have this kind of white knuckled approach, I hope I don’t have this, I hope I don’t, that doesn’t happen to me. Again, we miss the opportunity that’s right in front of us to do better to do bigger things. And so we had a meeting, and 2018. About half of the people we invited were academics from every discipline you can imagine from economics to medicine, psychology, sociology, on and on. And about the other half were from outside academics, people from industries like automotive industries, financial services, but also philanthropy, small businesses, people in education, public schools, and we brought them together. And we said, We want you to do two things. One is to imagine a thriving century long life. And the second thing is to begin to say, how would we get the majority of people there? First of all, we know we can have thriving 100 year lives, because as you have noticed, also, a lot of people are already doing that. The question is, how do we build a world so most people reach 100? Doing? Well? That’s the challenge. And so then we started to come up with all these different ways we would need to live life. And we began to think of it as a map. Where would we go? Where would we make changes? How would we live our lives differently, if we were starting from scratch and saying, I want you to map out 100 years versus I want you to map out 50 Because that map of 50 is the map that’s still guiding us today, even though we may live to be 100. So that was the idea. And we left this meeting and I was walking down the stairs from the building where we’d had the meeting and commenting to a friend that it was the most interesting meeting I’ve ever been at. And we quickly agreed that all we did, for two days, was to provide a nice experience for a bunch of relatively privileged people. This was a failure. And so we somehow raised enough money. This was such a gift somehow from heaven. We raised enough money to appoint nine postdoctoral fellows the following year. And they came from nine areas that were identified in this meeting as parts of life that would need to change. And each one of them did a deep dive report on that domain from work education, environmental exposures, things like this. And then we integrated those reports across these very different disciplines, and came up with a number of insights that were common, sort of across their different analyses. And when we put them together, we began to call it and describe the story of this effort as the new map of life. We are now appointing our third cohort of postdoctoral fellows. And they have been amazingly wonderful, and we’re really making headway and finding some solutions for living long lives.

Michael Hughes 23:48
I think that’s wonderful. Because, you know, it strikes me that you know, you are, what you’re boiling the ocean, I understand. But the thing is, you’re starting from a point of certainty. You know, God forbid, you know, something happens to the world. But, I mean, one of the most predictive things, I think, outside of climate change, I think the most predictive thing is the age wave. Yeah, this piece that we’ve found ourselves through, we know for certainty that there will be X number of people moving into the 90s and hundreds, and that we know that a good proportion of them are just doing their thing, you know, and so we know it’s there. But at the same time, I’m going to sort of quote about Kramer who we’ve had on the show before, and Bob’s trippy is that, you know, you’ve got people who essentially have no example about people living this way. I mean, everybody, people in their 90s and hundreds, he said, John is genuinely surprised that they have lived as long as they have, they’ve sort of taken anything that they can get just because they’re grateful for it, you know, for whatever upbringing. And so it just seems that there’s just not enough examples of people of normality into the 90s and hundreds, right? So we have to really celebrate and highlight just those normal stories, right?

Laura Carstensen 25:04
Absolutely. I tell people, they’re the pioneers out. But they didn’t sign up for it. People who are in their 90s, today didn’t have any real reason to think that they were going to make it to 90 because their ancestors didn’t make it to 90. And so a lot of people came to old age by surprise. They’re surprised they’re still around. But current generations don’t can’t get away with that surprise anymore. We have some good confidence in what the population will look like in the future, just as you just described. And so we need to begin to plan. There’s an economist Andrew Scott, a good friend of mine, he’s a wonderful thinker. And he just published a book about Aging and Longevity. And one of the things he says is, it’s kind of like listening to the weather report. If you hear that there’s a 4% chance of rain. You don’t necessarily take an umbrella or your raincoat, you hear it’s 20%, you kind of go, Well, you know, maybe I’ll hook it over the back of my chair, maybe I’ll remember, maybe not, when they tell you there’s an 80% chance of rain, you bring your raincoat and your umbrella. That’s where we are today with longevity. True, it might not happen, it might not rain, but we need to be prepared for much longer lives.

Michael Hughes 26:30
Yeah, very well said. And, you know, what occurs to me is that, you know, with the asset that you build, you may start to disappoint yourself, it’s yourself, you may have limitations, you may, you know, sit around with your friends all day and talk about your medical problems. Because guess what they’re important, and you want to, you know, you want that emotional support. But it seems to me that we build this very valuable asset in terms of lived experience. And in all, in many non western societies that’s recognized and valued as being an elder, and it doesn’t seem to be president with society. And here we are, by the way that we are recording this in June of 2024. And it’s an election year. And I’m just wondering, just in your research, have you really found the benefits of this experience, like how it may complement evolved, and just really be an asset to society. And I’ll mention this the night, you know, I’m gonna sound so important as I read The Economist, you know,

Laura Carstensen 27:37
It’s a great journal.

Michael Hughes 27:39
But there was an article just about this subject. And they were talking about the political leadership, you know, and the, you know, if you look at history into I don’t know, like the Spartans or the Romans, and although, you know, we hear a lot about the wars, because that’s what they happen, but it’s like, Hey, look at all the wars that happened back then, and look at who is leading those societies, they are men, predominantly in their 30s and 40s, that may not have had calm heads that may have not built that resilience of Do you see, what do you see in terms of lived experience as that asset?

Laura Carstensen 28:18
Emotional Development is one of the most positive aspects of aging. With age, people are slower to anger, more likely to feel grateful, more likely to have deep, rich emotional experiences where you’re smiling, but you also have a tear in the eye because you know, this won’t go on forever. There is a richness to emotional life in advanced years that we don’t see, and and at younger ages. And I think that’s because so much of it has to do with perspective. A you can’t have the perspective of how things have changed over many decades, when you haven’t been alive many decades. It’s just, you know, it’s impossible. And I don’t mean to diminish anything about the emotional lives of younger people, but that pert that that quality of understanding and a deep, emotional way. That time passes, life doesn’t go on forever. Things come and go. That’s something that to be able to really feel that is something that generally takes decades to to come about. And older people have that. So believe that when we’re thinking about leaders of countries, that having that quality is a great asset. It is not the only important asset. I don’t know how anybody keeps up the physical pace that our leaders do presidents traveling, you know, all over the world. Every week, they’re somewhere else I don’t know about you, boy, when I travel, and I’m in, you know, a 10 hour time zone difference. I don’t, you know, I’m not feeling great every minute. And they’re doing it all the time. I don’t know how they do it. So there’s a physicality to it. Certainly younger people have that advantage over older people, the physical strength, and vitality. Cognitively, we don’t see nearly as much change with age as people believe it’s there. And I think that’s largely because of something you and I were talking about a few minutes ago. And that’s Alzheimer’s disease. We don’t know how to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease, before symptoms appear, but we know the disease starts long decades, years before symptoms appear. And so in the research on cognitive aging, where the older our samples are, the more people are going to be in it, who are in those early stages of dementia. What that results in is an exaggeration of the kind of cognitive problems that people may face as they age, you’re going to have very significant cognitive problems, if you have dementia, you’re going to have relatively mild cognitive impairment or slowing. If you have a healthy brain and most of us do. This is a long winded way of saying I think we’re exaggerating cognitive decline. But we do see some changes in cognition, like the speed of processing new information, retrieving words, especially names. I wouldn’t remember my name if I didn’t see it on a screen. You know, it’s like, but the words come to us, they just come later. It’s not that we forgot them in some way. The retrieval is slower. So that’s the cognitive change. And then you have emotional assets, the emotional changes are improvements, and emotional stability, emotional balance. So you put those things together, physicality, cognition, and the ability to make wise decisions based largely on experience and perspective, and emotion. And what we need to do is to evaluate people individually, across all of those, the areas when we want to elect leaders, it’s troublesome for us to say, or troublesome to me when I hear people say we should have an age limit on leadership, because there will be people and their 70s and 80s, who should not be serving high pressure, cognitively demanding jobs, but there’ll be a lot of them who are as well suited or better suited than anybody else available for the position. So if we see tremendous variability or heterogeneity and aging, and the idea that age is going to be the determinative factor is just not supported by data or evidence. We need to consider individuals when we think about different kinds of leadership positions. So

Michael Hughes 33:21
before we get so I don’t know if you knew this LoRa. But we always have our guests ask three of us. We always ask them three questions about their own personal experience with aging. I assume it’s okay to ask you those questions. But first of all, I want to solve everything, want to solve everything that we just talked about? And so if we, because there’s a lot, there’s a lot here, and kind of the fabric you’re describing. By the way, I’m going to pinch myself because I have been using the word fabric too much. I don’t know why. But let’s use it again. Why not? But there’s a lot, there’s a lot of hope in aging, there’s things to look forward to, there’s things to, you know, you know, it’s not there’s not all doom and gloom. And again, it just seems to me that you’ve outlined a pathway where that’s very hopeful. But yet, we still need to convince people that it’s there. So what’s stopping the will? What do we need to do to kind of drive the societal mindset into the right place? I’m just accepting this and am looking forward to I don’t know, watching this up, but hopefully you get a sense of what I mean.

Laura Carstensen 34:27
Yeah. I think about this a lot, you know, sort of what’s the most important thing we need to do? You know, and a lot of my colleagues would say, well, we need to invest in science and technology. I absolutely believe that. But I also believe that the potentials of science and technology today are breathtaking. So I have quite a bit of confidence that we’re going to solve a whole lot of the problems we have with our joints and different kinds of diseases and fatigue ability all the we’re gonna figure that out. I’m confident we will. What worries me more is that our views of aging will be so negative that we won’t try hard enough. Yeah. And so in some ways, I think what might be most important is to do just what you’re doing. And that is talking about different possibilities and telling stories. We are social creatures. And when the stories that we tell one another, our negative, we come to remember those negative stories, we need to begin to have richer stories, a richer set of stories, we don’t want to be in denial about problems that many people face, on the one hand, but we want to get a representation of the range of it. And we just don’t do that very much for aging. And it’s back to things you have said, it’s a stereotype of what an older person is like, we have a clearer idea about what old people are like than any other age group. And the same very same age group, older people are more variable than any other age group. So it’s just the flip. You know, I like to think my dad used to say that six month old babies. I thought babies were pretty boring. Actually. He thought they were cute. But he said, they’re all the same, you know? And I started thinking, Yeah, we could bring two six month old babies into the studio, and make good predictions about what they could do what they would like, what would make them cry, what would make them laugh, we could do that, you know, bring 280 year olds into the studio, all bets are off, right, what they’re like, what they care about how healthy they are. And so we become increasingly different from one another. The older we get, we need to begin to represent that in our minds, so that we have a good sense of who it is we’re talking about when we refer to older people. Well, I,

Michael Hughes 37:09
and very well said, and I think the perfect thing did lead us into our three questions about your own personal experience with aging. But first, LoRa, where can we find you? Where can people learn more about the map of life

Laura Carstensen 37:24
longevity.stanford.edu. And you can also put a new map of life fellows into your search engine, and you’ll come to us also, and get to meet these postdoctoral fellows that I brag about every chance I get. They’re terrific. And you can read about them and the work that they’re doing. longevity.stanford.edu And

Michael Hughes 37:44
I bet you some of them would be amazing guests on this show. So hit me oh, you know, you send them our way. Oh,

Laura Carstensen 37:51
yes. That would be great. They’d love it. They’d love it.

Michael Hughes 37:57
Okay, so these three questions, okay, here we go. So question number one, LoRa. When you think about how you yourself have aged, what do you think has changed about you or grown with you that you really like about yourself? Isn’t it?

Laura Carstensen 38:14
I’m more comfortable in my own skin. I’m more comfortable with who I am. And that’s both my faults and strengths. I guess I spent many years of my life just worrying about how I wasn’t this way. I wasn’t, was I good enough? Was I kind enough? Was I stern enough was I ever, you know, everything and I was constantly second guessing myself, I was constantly worried about having maybe said the wrong thing or done the wrong thing. And as I’ve gotten older, I accept myself more, I think, and I am surprised by that. But I know that I’m not good at a lot of things. And I kind of feel better now that I know what they are. And I think I’m pretty good at some things. And so I tried to use my time doing the things I’m better at the worst set. So

Michael Hughes 39:15
awesome. You know, we said before I remember I think I actually heard this from an Ann Landers column or something, you know, where she said, yeah, so somebody wrote in, they said, you know, your 20s you’re constantly worried about what people think about you, and then you’re in your 40s. You know, you care about what people are thinking about you then in your 60s, you realize they were never even thinking about you at all. You know, it’s really true.

Laura Carstensen 39:38
really true. Yes, yes. Oh, is that something, I’m forgetting who to source this quote to? But I heard, I’ve worried about a lot of things in my life, most of which never happened. I think that might have been Mark Twain, but it’s a great, great, great quote. Well, cool. Well, question number

Michael Hughes 39:56
two, though, is LoRa What has surprised you the most about you As you’ve aged,

Laura Carstensen 40:00
One of the great gifts of aging is that we reach a point in life where we can give to others and give back. And in my experience, hands down, that is so much more gratifying than being on the receiving end and taking from others. It’s wonderful when people do things for us, and we can feel very grateful for it. But wow, it feels so good to be able to help somebody who needs a helping hand, and to be able to have the experience sometimes a bad experience, but an experience you had that might now be useful, even if it was negative at the time to another person who’s struggling. And so being able to do that is, you know, I don’t see that in the literature, I don’t see that, you know, I it’s, it’s a great joy. And I don’t know if people anticipated as much as they might.

Michael Hughes 41:01
And this is another part of the hope that we’re talking about LoRa because, you know, again, lived experiences as you age, you know, and, you know, it’s like, I can imagine, you know, older people, like people their 80s and 90s, going to weddings, and looking up at the couple getting married. And so yeah, you don’t know anything yet. But just being able to have that wisdom. I mean, just to bring it out into the world. And to have more of that. And that gratification. It’s a through line with everybody. You know, it’s yeah, thank you for saying that. Okay, last question for you. Is there someone that you have met or has been in your life that has set a good example for you and aging like somebody as we embrace this concept of abundant life and abundant aging? Is there someone that’s inspired you to say, oh, that person is aging abundantly? I want to be like that person when I grow up, you know?

Laura Carstensen 41:50
Well, there’s no question that the person in my life that affected me the most was my dad. And he taught me an awful lot about aging. He’s a biophysicist. And I am, you know, as you’ve told your listeners, a psychologist, but we were both professors. And we talked a lot about our work. I didn’t understand most of what his work was. But he understood mine. And he would read my papers, and we would talk about aging a lot. And then as he got older, he died when he was 97. And this, he got older, he was ever more interested in the literature, and what we were finding and finding about emotion and findings about cognition. And so we talked and talked about aging, as scientists, who loved each other and cared about each other, both from a personal perspective and the perspective of the literature. And what was that telling us? And what was our unconscious and so on. So I learned so much from him, that I can’t really capture in words, what that experience was like, my dad died, when he was walking from his study at home, where he was writing a paper for a scientific journal, he was walking from his office to the bathroom upstairs and fell and hit his head and had a slow bleed. And so but my point is, he was writing a paper on his computer, which was later published, he had papers published posthumously, yes. But he was incredibly active, and productive as a scientist to his last days of life. He even said, as a scientist, I remember talking to what he thought that the older you got the better positioned you were to challenge the big assumptions in a field. And he was beginning to think that some of the assumptions and physics were actually wrong. But he said, you can’t really do that. When you’re younger, you’ve got to get a grant, you’ve got to do this. But when you’re kind of got some distance from it, you can begin to see some things that might be off. So it was when we were talking a few minutes ago about creativity. Wow. That’s an opportunity for creativity.

Michael Hughes 44:16
Yeah, I want to be like him when I grow up. Thank you so much for sharing that story, Laura and we’re just so thankful that you made time to be on the show today. It was such a terrific conversation. Our guest today, Laura Carstensen, who is the founder, founding director of the Stanford Center on Longevity talking about the new map of life, please check that out@longevity.stanford.edu And most of all, thanks to our listeners. Thank you for tuning in. And thank you for giving your time and listening to this episode of The Art of aging, which is part of the Abundant Aging podcast series from United Church Homes. We want to hear from you. What do you hope to see when you see an aging hero? How do you thank you? You will use your more healthy years of life. Talk to us at abundantagingpodcast.com You can also visit us at the Ruth Frost Parker website which is unitedchurchhomes.org/parker-center. Thank you very much for listening. We’ll see you next time.