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Thursday, August 8, 2019

Retirees, Subjective Age, and Robert Redford

Amherst to Newton, Massachusetts: 89.1 miles; 1 hr. 47 minutes (by car)

Last November, in the waiting room at a physical therapy appointment, I overheard a retiree in his mid- to late 70s disclose that he and his wife had just seen The Old Man and the Gun, marketed as Robert Redford’s “final” movie. So far, so good. But then he confessed that they had driven 90 miles to see it.  “We just missed it at the local mall, but we didn’t let that stop us,” he remarked.  “So we looked for its nearest showing. That was in Newton—on the other side of the state.” After the movie, which he described as “worthwhile,” the couple promptly drove another 90 miles back to Amherst.

What’s a retiree to do with all that time on his hands?  Whatever he pleases, I thought. But then it occurred to me: Time may be scarcer than he thinks, given his own march toward mortality’s finish line, not to mention the ebbing of “quality” years that might remain. And how have his brushes with free time before retirement prepared him for its aftermath? Vacations can be restorative and magical, but also an ephemeral tease. And childhood’s subjective sense of timelessness calls for innocence, not experience.   

For another take on the Amherst-to-Newton hegira, I emailed Charlie Schewe, a professor at UMass Amherst who studies marketing to generations and cohorts, including seniors. Here’s his response:

The answer is maybe yes and maybe no. One of the keys to successful aging is to have some accomplishments each day…maybe just painting a picture or gardening.  But I know people who simply look out the window for entertainment.  They never cultivated a passion, a hobby, an excitement beyond their jobs.  That’s a big mistake. My latest research centers on Subjective Age, the age you think you are.  The more we believe ourselves to be younger [most think of themselves as 13 on average years younger], the more we can add years [7 on average] to our mortality.

So who am I to question Robert Redford fantasies?

A still passionate senior