I dedicate this post to a friend whose last name will go unmentioned to preserve his privacy, but he will know who he is as he reads on.
In talking to my friend on the phone the other day he said to me, “ I recently turned 73 and you know – I’ve changed. Things don’t bother me like they used to. I’ve gotten more patient and time doesn’t mean the same as it used to. It’s like I have all the time in the world and yet at 73 I know I have less of it than ever.”
I responded, “Congratulations, Jim. You have successfully made it into the ranks of the “truly ageless society.”
I wrote about truly ageless people in the last chapter of my book, Ageless Marketing. These are people who have made it far up Maslow’s Hierarchy of Basic Needs toward self-actualization. In describing such personalities he spoke of them as being more tolerant -- they don’t get as riled over little things as they used to – and have more patience. And he spoke of how their sense of time has changed: Paradoxically, “A minute is a day and a day is a minute.”
It is doubtful that very many 33-year-olds – or 43-year-olds for that matter – can very easily understand how my friend can be so sanguine about life as he approaches his mid-70s. However, a recent issue of The Economist reported that a Duke University study found that 70-year-olds generally reported themselves as being happier with their lives than 30-yeasr-olds did.
How can it be that a person with about only a dozen years left in his life expectancy (at 73 a man’s life expectancy is about another 12 years), can find himself happiest he’s ever been about his life? If you can’t understand that and you’re in marketing or otherwise dealing with older people you need to study up on “the truly ageless market.”
And if you don’t understand how many people reach higher states of happiness in later life then you are not clicking with them in your marketing messages or in serving them as you might – and not of the least importance you are missing the real joy that people who do understand how older people can reach the summits of happiness in later life experience.
Of course not everyone reaches such auspicious levels of life satisfaction as my friend has reached. The population of older people who still grieve over loss of youthhood, are steeped in regrets and taste bitterness day in and day out in their lives is not a small population for sure. But I believe that most older people who are not still struggling with meeting basic human needs at Maslow’s first three levels (basic physiological, basic safety and security and basic love and belonging) do enter the realm of the truly ageless market.
Members of the truly ageless market experience increased life satisfaction because they have moved largely beyond harm’s way. That happens when people begin to experience an increasing sense of timelessness in their lives, as my friend reported experiencing. This does not mean that frailty, ill health and loss will pass them by as they grow older. In fact, part of the reason such issues as mortality and health become less worrisome to people like mmy friend Jim is they have become more realistic about life and have acquired an ability to deal with the inevitable.
One can speculate about why many people experience increased happiness and satisfaction with life as they age, but no one really knows why this is. Some attribute it to people becoming more spiritual, but atheists report having the same experience. Others attribute it to the mind learning how to compensate for the inevitable declines and losses of old age. My own view is that it’s just another step forward in human growth and development.
In any event, Maslow and others have observed that old age can be a great time of life – and for many people, a time when the joys of life flow with a constancy that they did not experience when they were young.
So, if you are in the business of serving and marketing to the older crowd you might find it to everyone’s benefit to determine whether you are coming at your tasks from the perspective of a 33-year-old or a 73-year-old. Does your marketing literature, for example, stress feeling young again? That’s ageist, not ageless.
Are you showing older people with the goofy looks of the men in Cialis ads as they hold hands with their beloved in an adjacent bath tub? Your garden variety 73-year-old doesn’t look as sex the same way as the people who craft the Cialis ads. In fact, Maslow reported that self-actualizers spoke of sexual experience as becoming less erotic and more spiritual in later life, promoting thereby greater satisfaction.
Success in older markets depends on connecting with them through their worldview which means the younger members of your marketing and service team need to learn how to shift away from the worldview of the young to see the world as my friend Jim has come to see it.
A good place to start is with Helen Luke's book Old Age. Written in her later years, a more poetic yet startlingly realistic view of aging has rarely if ever been written.