A Long Bright Future [An Action Plan for a Lifetime of Happiness, Health, and Financial Security] Author: Laura L. Carstensen, Ph.D. Founding director of the Stanford Center on Longevity.

Laura L. Carstensen, Ph.D., is also a professor of psychology and the Fairleigh S. Dickinson Jr. Professor in Public Policy. She has won numerous awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship. Her research has been supported for more than twenty years by the National Institute on Aging. Dr. Carstensen is one of the world’s leading authorities on longevity and aging.

In this book, Dr. Carstensen challenges baby boomers to change the way aging is viewed in our culture. A longevity revolution is sweeping over the U.S. and most of the developed world, and she suggests we “think of old age as new.”

We previously reviewed The Longevity Prescription: The 8 Proven Keys to a Long, Healthy Life by Robert N. Butler, M.D., who was considered the “father of geriatric medicine.” The takeaway new message there was that not just genes, but also individual lifestyle controls health and well-being in the three-decade dividend or bonus years. In The Roadmap to 100 – The Breakthrough Science of Living a Long and Healthy Life by Walter M. Bortz II, M.D. and Randall Stickrod, a longitudinal study of centenarians shows that engagement – through sexual relationships, social interaction, and professional activity along with physical activity –can add thirty more years to a lifespan. Both books reveal how aging well is the achievement of deliberate action to thrive and participate fully in life, to “embrace longevity.” Dr. Carstensen suggests, now that we’ve got it, a uniquely 21st century question is what do we do with an additional thirty years of life on average that we didn’t expect? Or, as Dr. Carstensen calls it, our “supersized lives.”

Like Dr. Bortz, Dr. Carstensen challenges us to imagine being an active, healthy boomer centenarian. This highly informative book on smart aging is a call-to-action to transform aging into a new source of individual and social renewal. She sets out the five myths about aging we can’t afford to believe: older people are lonely; they are unhappy; they drain our resources; it’s possible to save enough to retire for decades; and, only the genetically blessed live well and long. She tells us that kids in grade school will grow up in a culture where very old age is the norm and 50% of baby girls born in 2000 will live to a hundred. In our youth-centric society where too many believe aging is synonymous with decline, Carstensen persuasively argues that life as an elder can be filled with unbounded freedom and emotional rewards. As she says, “it’s time to stop tinkering with the old script and write a new one optimized for longer life.” The new script should “diffuse work across the life span.

Dr. Carstensen suggests we begin by giving every newborn a retirement savings account. After schooling, she states there should be an extended period of young adulthood from about twenty-five to forty with the goal of making this life stage a time of finding one’s place in the working world. Work-life careers take off around age forty. As she says, “the first four decades of life are a …slow process of accumulating learning experiences…the decades that follow are when this…investment in developing capital begins to pay off.” She advises using this gift of time wisely to help prepare for and maximize our personal three-decade dividend.

Dr. Carstensen challenges the baby boomer generation, who are entering old age in larger numbers than any generation before to be the “trendsetters” and “set the cultural stage for entitlements, contributions, and family roles.” Filled with pioneering insights into how to plan for the bright future that lies ahead, the book inspires us to think about growing “old” in an entirely original way. Boomers have never lacked imagination. Many in the boomer generation who were out to change the world in the ‘60s, can be the policy makers for innovations to match this demographic landscape and transform aging in our culture.

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