Columnist: Getting Older Doesn’t Have to Mean Getting Grumpier

For most people, living a long life is the ultimate goal. But the “cranky old man” stereotypes that surround aging are not especially good ones. So how can people grow older without becoming out of touch, obstinate, and, well, grumpy?

Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn has some musings on that as he celebrates a milestone birthday, and he joins us to talk about it.

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Below, a Q&A with Zorn.

Who inspires you?

My dad was an incredible role model who was really active mentally and physically. The body is slowing some but he’s always on Facebook and reacting to news stories and thinking about issues but not in a bombastic way. Anyone who’s still active in their 80s is inspiring, but I was also thinking about negative inspirations – people checking out and hardening and not being interesting to be around. If you’re not interesting, you tend to get isolated. I’ve been thinking about that for a long time. I don’t want to single anyone out but there are certainly people who close down. One thing that I stress is you have to be outside of your own mind if you’re interested in people – not closing your mind about what other people are doing. And you can’t be a know it all or blowhard.

What is it about landmark birthdays that make people reflective?

There’s something about flipping the odometer, you start to contemplate the big questions. When I turned 40, I started a program with readers at the Tribune where we got together and ran a marathon. I said I’m turning 40 this year, I’ve never run a marathon before, who’s with me? We had meetings, training groups, progress reports online. Some readers said it changed their life.

Have your thoughts held up? Rethought anything since 50?

I think it’s held up pretty well. It’s maybe a little more trivial in some ways – it didn’t deal with the big themes of life. One that seemed to resonate with people was the one about devoting 10 minutes a day to get started on something. The problem is breaking out of inertia. I used the 10-minute one to learn to read sheet music, and I’ve done pretty well on that one.

What has the reaction to your column been?

People seem to like it. Probably the comment I got the most is that I left off volunteering – I was thinking more internally. Another one was “vote as if you were still 40” – young enough to care about future, old enough to remember the past.

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