Dr. Mary Manz Simon, ALOA Board of Directors
I confess. I’m guilty.
On rare occasions, I’ve joked that, “I’m too old for that,” or “At 73, I’m barely over the hill.” However, there’s no excuse for that self-inflected ageism.
If those attempts at humor reflect any underlying gloomy feelings about being old, the World Health Organization says my health is in jeopardy. People with negative views about their journey as an older adult live 7.5 years less than those with a positive attitude. Clearly, I need to give up my attempt at age-related humor!
Many of us can supply a genuinely funny phrase to finish the sentence, “You know you’re getting older when…” ALOA Board member Rich Bimler continually reminds us that we need to age joyfully.
Keeping life light with laughter can distract, at least temporarily, from some of the challenges of aging that are anything but funny.
We even read in the Bible that, ”A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” (Proverbs 17:22)
Everyone can identify with many of the humorous anecdotes that are printed on greeting cards and appear in cartoons. Humor crosses cultural and generational lines. And if we want to generate a guaranteed laugh, an over-the-hill joke will always work. After all, aging is universal.
Research shows that an aging-induced decline in cognitive abilities can impact both the ability to understand humor and the ability to produce something funny. I was pleased to learn that older men and older women react differently to humor. We don’t respond equally to the irony in a punch line or the humor in a cartoon. That simple fact, not declining cognitive ability, clearly explains why I don’t laugh atmy husband’s jokes!
More research is needed to understand how growing older impacts what we consider funny and how humor can contribute to healthy aging. But in the meantime, we should be aware that ageist humor is a form of discrimination. “Harmless” age-related jokes can be potentially harmful to ourselves and others.All joking aside, that is no laughing matter.
Check out this video for more thoughts on ageism and what congregations can do to counteract it.