Everyday experience suggests that we often don’t experience aging the same way, with many people feeling older or younger than they really are.David Robson
Every so often we have those strange moments in life where our experience in some way defies reality. I bumped up against one such an event last week. During a conversation a friend mentioned that someone I have known for years had retired. But I couldn’t believe this because somehow I was locked in prior decades when my mental reference point was from a time when both this person and I were working.
And ever since I have been struck by the fact that the way I perceive my subjective age is quite different than my chronological age.
And when I checked in with other people around me, they echoed similar experiences. What was most fascinating was that the variability in subjective ages most people have also represents their current state of mind. Not only does it vary from person to person but also from circumstance to circumstance.
This gap between a person’s felt age and what is listed on their birth certificate changes as we grow older. Adolescents and young adults often feel older than their true ages while as we start of accrue more and more birthdays, many of us subjectively feel younger. This discrepancy between felt vs. chronological age has been studied for the past five decades.
The expression “you are only as old as you feel” is true for many. Influenced by our inner mental world and the status of our physical health as well current life stressors, “felt” subjective age can be variable throughout our lives.
The phenomenon of one’s subjective or felt age changes the energy that we bring into our day to day lives. I recognize that when I am excited about certain things or people in my life, or when I am high in a creativity cycle that my youthful self seems to be front and center. Conversely, when juggling too many tasks, when life seems overwhelming, or when we experience tragic events, we can feel older than we ever have before.
And healthy sleep has been identified through research to have a huge impact on our subjective sense of age. That resonates – for those among us who have struggled to have a good nights sleep, we often feel weary and older than our years.
When these times emerge, it often signals a time to take rest, to grieve, to simply slow down and pause until our energy levels are restored. So learning to focus attention to these ebbs and flows that may influence our subjective age, seems a skill worth pursuing.
And hopefully the next time I bump up against the commonplace ageisms that are ubiquitous these days, my subjective inner youthful self can quietly chuckle and simply walk away.
Stay healthy and safe!