Even the snarkiest political cat fight is unlikely to ruffle President Barack Obama, who turns 50 Thursday.
“The data shows that people report being happier as they get older,” with cheerfulness peaking in the 70s, said anti-aging psychologist Michael Brickey.
At 50, most well-adjusted folks de-emphasize the importance of their jobs (good luck with that, O-Man!) and get more gratification from their interpersonal relationships. Psychologists advise the olds to keep cultivating new relationships, though as, umm, “attrition,” of loved ones is likely while navigating life’s second act.
It seems like only yesterday Joan Rivers joked that looking 50 was great – if you’re 60. But today’s half-centurions say – sorry, Mick – it’s not such a drag getting old. Despite age discrimination and the gutting of pensions and threats to Medicare, experts say that 50-somethings have it better than ever before, in part because of medical inventions such as joint replacements and technological advances that make everything from tele-commuting to checking in with college buddies a snap.
Basketball-bouncing Barack leads an unexpectedly large demographic team: 45 to 49 year olds make up 7.4% and 50 to 54-year-olds 7.2% of the overall population according to the 2010 Census. That is a sizeable bolus in the demographic snake. Obama is actually the fifth-youngest inaugurated president, but his youthful ease, athletic habits and candid declaration of his attempts to quit cigarettes, “really put a crack in the bias,” against the olds, noted John Santos, a gerontological psychologist and professor emeritus from the University of Notre Dame.
The stigma of aging has lessened as a result of so many people going gray all at once, concurred Norman Abeles, professor emeritus of psychology from the Michigan State University.
Hell’s Kitchen architect Tony Hogge “always thought 50 was old.” Then he turned 50 on June 4 and realized, “I don’t know what ‘old’ is anymore.”
Moving to NYC from Chicago five years ago, he joined a gym and became a vegetarian. He feels younger now than he did then.
“These women in their 40s, 50s and 60s – they’re gorgeous! Their bodies are incredible!” gushed Robert Tutein, 47, of Kingsbridge, the Bronx. Health-conscious boomers push harder than their forbearers – and often, 20-somethings - to care for themselves, said Tutein, a payroll and billing manager.
Today’s 50-somethings “are much more aware of health and fitness,” but not necessarily healthier, as ballooning rates of obesity and diabetes demonstrate, said Barbara Hannah Grufferman, Upper East Side resident and author of “The Best of Everything After 50.”
Fifty is when it comes time to pay the bill or collect the benefits of all the decisions made in the previous four decades: Whether one invested wisely and regularly to assure a stress-free retirement, whether one kept extra weight at bay, and whether one managed to maintain friendships in the face of work and family demands, Grufferman noted.
An individual’s sense of well being at 50 is determined by how much success one has had in achieving developmental milestones, expert’s say: Has she learned how to manage stress and respond flexibly to difficult situations? Does he have a talent for initiating and maintaining meaningful, gratifying relationships? Has she managed to achieve several important life goals and maintained her weight and health?
Maintaining a sense of purpose in a challenging economy, can of course, be difficult, and the underemployed are more likely to express dissatisfaction.
“You want balance in your life, but this economy isn’t allowing for that,” noted Beth Arky, 51, a writer for the Child Mind Institute who lives in Park Slope. Despite that, she said, 50 can be freeing because one is freed from the shackles of peer pressure: “You realize you can’t be hung up on what other people think. This is your life!”
Social networking and the internet have helped to democratize a youth-oriented culture, Arky noted. “You can put out whatever you want and get past the age issue,” she said. “I’m really big on relationships and Facebook has really helped with that,” she added. (According to Inside Facebook, 27.5% of all users of the once youth-themed site are now age 35 or older.)
With the brain, as with the body, the “use it or lose it” axiom is more relevant than ever.
“If you stop moving, the game is up,” said Santos, “Exercise doesn’t cost you a dime and it’s the most important thing in the world you can do,” he said.
Happy birthday, Mr. President. But don’t feel bad. You have plenty of celebrity company in the half-century club this year. Here are some celebs who have turned 50 or will soon hit the milestone.
Julia Louis Dreyfus Jan. 13
Dennis Rodman Feb. 2
Eddie Murphy April 3
George Lopez April 23
George Clooney May 6
Melissa Etheridge May 29
Michael J. Fox June 9
Boy George June 14
Woody Harrelson July 29
Ann Coulter December 8
49 and holding:
Heather Locklear Sept. 5
Meg Ryan Nov. 19