Published in the October 29, 2007 edition of the Ventura County Star
He was bounding up the stairs, taking them three at a time, as I gingerly picked my way down, one hand in a death grip on the rail and the other corralling an armful of books. He spotted me seconds before a nasty collision ensued.
I remembered him from last semester. He was a freshman who sat in the back of the room with white iPod buds inserted in both ears. I noted that he would dutifully remove them the minute I started calling the roll but they were back the minute I dismissed the class.
“What’s playing?,” I asked, tapping my index finger on my ear.
“Oh, ‘I’m Eighteen’” he responded, with more zeal than he ever managed for the history of mass media.
“You mean the Alice Cooper song?,” I inquired. He seemed astonished that I had even heard of the shock-rocker. Admittedly, more than three-and-a-half decades have elapsed since Cooper, who was 23 years old at the time, penned his first big hit.
Apparently, the angst-laden lyrics “’cause I’m eighteen I get confused every day; eighteen, I just don’t know what to say,” which so resonated with my generation, have been rediscovered by the ready, willing and able ears of Millennials as well.
I don’t know if you find it difficult to believe that Alice Cooper will be blowing out 60 candles on his next birthday cake---but I do. He’s not only managing what would be considered a grueling tour schedule for a twenty-something (in fact, he played the Ventura Theater on Saturday night) but admits to warbling “I’m Eighteen” with more amusement than anguish these days.
That fact wouldn’t surprise Stacey Wood, a neuropsychologist and associate professor at Scripps College in Claremont. She and neuroscientist Michael Kisley (University of Colorado) published a study in Psychological Science last month that contends, when it comes to human emotions, the best is yet to come: older folks tend to be measurably happier than younger folks.
Wood told the Los Angeles Times, “What we see is a real difference in how negative information is processed by the brain.” She continued, “when we talk about maturity or wisdom, we’re talking about that ability to integrate negative emotion or cognitive information; being able to weigh it and not find it so disruptive.”
In addition, oldsters find contentment not because some chemical in the brain gradually incapacitates the “zero-to-60” emotional response mechanism that seemingly keeps young people in a constant state of agitation, but simply because experience turns out to be a very effective instructor. As we age, we are less likely to allow our emotions to dictate our actions. The hair-trigger temper that causes one to crash crockery not only becomes tempered by the negative reinforcement of having to clean up the mess but being forced to invest funds earmarked for fun into replacement dishes as well.
Moreover, maturity enables individuals with hard-won experience under their expanding belts to put negative events into perspective. “This too shall pass” remains a common mantra among long-term employees. They’ve been around long enough to predict patterns, whether it be a see-sawing business cycle or the rise and (eventual) fall of some fascist-minded supervisor.
Furthermore, the silver-haired among us also tend to cultivate selective memory---accentuating the positive rather than allowing a perceived slight or outright insult to elevate one’s blood pressure.
According to Robert A. Emmons, author of “Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier,” the secret to mental health is two-fold. First, “when you focus on gratefulness, you see that good stuff just doesn’t happen randomly. It helps you make sense out of life. Grateful people see their lives as gifts.” The other side of the Emmons coin, of course, is forgiveness, which helps reduce such negative emotions as anger and resentment.
Finally, a 2002 Stanford University study published in Psychology and Aging reported that as people grow older, they encounter “shrinking time horizons.” With fewer years left, claims psychologist and researcher Laura Carstensen, there is a tendency to focus on the now. “I think of old age as the richest form of emotional satisfaction that is possible,” she told the Los Angeles Times. “As people come to appreciate the fragility of life, they tend to put more value on it. There is something about recognizing our own mortality.”
And recognize it we do---every time we discover time robbing us of physical and mental abilities we once took for granted---like sprinting up stairs or calling up the rest of the lyrics to “I’m Eighteen.”
Wait a minute, that’s no problem. I’ll just haul out my Alice Cooper collection.
On second thought, do you know anybody who can still repair a record player?