How To Grow Old

In spite of the title, this article will really be on how not to grow old, which, at my time of life, is a much more important subject. My first advice would be to choose your ancestors carefully. Although both my parents died young, I have done well in this respect as regards my other ancestors. My maternal grandfather, it is true, was cut off in the flower of his youth at the age of sixty-seven, but my other three grandparents all lived to be over eighty. Of remoter ancestors I can only discover one who did not live to a great age, and he died of a disease which is now rare, namely, having his head cut off。youmeimon01-1

A great grandmother of mine, who was a friend of Gibbon, lived to the age of ninety-two, and to her last day remained a terror to all her descendants. My maternal grandmother, after having nine children who survived, one who died in infancy, and many miscarriages, as soon as she became a widow, devoted herself to woman’s higher education. She was one of the founders of Girton College, and worked hard at opening the medical profession to women. She used to relate how she met in Italy an elderly gentleman who was looking very sad. She inquired the cause of his melancholy and he said that he had just parted from his two grandchildren. “Good gracious”, she exclaimed, “I have seventy-two grandchildren, and if I were sad each time I parted from one of them, I should have a dismal existence!” “Madre snaturale,” he replied. But speaking as one of the seventy-two, I prefer her recipe. After the age of eighty she found she had some difficulty in getting to sleep, so she habitually spent the hours from midnight to 3 a.m. in reading popular science. I do not believe that she ever had time to notice that she was growing old. This, I think, is proper recipe for remaining young. If you have wide and keen interests and activities in which you can still be effective, you will have no reason to think about the merely statistical fact of the number of years you have already lived, still less of the probable brevity of you future.

As regards health I have nothing useful to say since I have little experience of illness. I eat and drink whatever I like, and sleep when I cannot keep awake. I never do anything whatever on the ground that it is good for health, though in actual fact the things I like doing are mostly wholesome.
Psychologically there are two dangers to be guarded against in old age. One of these is undue absorption in the past. It does not do to live in memories, in regrets for the good old days, or in sadness about friends who are dead. One’s thoughts must be directed to the future and to things about which there is something to be done. This is not always easy: one’s own past is gradually increasing weight. It is easy to think to oneself that one’s emotions used to be more vivid than they are, and one’s mind keener. If this is true it should be forgotten, and if it is forgotten it will probably not be true.

The other thing to be avoided is clinging to youth in the hope of sucking vigor from its vitality. When your children are grown up they want to live their own lives, and if you continue to be as interested in them as you were when they were young, you are likely to become a burden to them, unless they are unusually callous. I do not mean that one should be without interest in them, but one’s interest should be contemplative and, if possible, philanthropic, but not unduly emotional. Animals become indifferent to their young as soon as their young can look after themselves, but human beings, owing to the length of infancy, find this difficult.

I think that a successful old age is easiest for those who have strong impersonal interests involving appropriate activities. It is in this sphere that long experience is really fruitful, and it is in this sphere that the wisdom born of experience can be exercised without being oppressive. It is no use telling grown-up children not to make mistakes, both because they will not believe you, and because mistakes are an essential part of education. But if you are one of those who are incapable of impersonal interests, you may find that your life will be empty unless you concern yourself with you children and grandchildren. In that case you must realize that while you can still render them material services, such as making them an allowance or knitting them jumpers, you must not expect that they will enjoy your company.

Some old people are oppressed by the fear of death. In the young there is a justification for this feeling. Young men who have reason to fear that they will be killed in battle may justifiably feel bitter in the thought that they have been cheated of the best things that life has to offer. But in an old man who has known human joys and sorrows, and has achieved whatever work it was in him to do, the fear of death is somewhat abject and ignoble. The best way to overcome it – so at least it seems to me – is to make your interests gradually wider and more impersonal, until bit by bit the walls of the ego recede, and your life becomes increasingly merged in the universal life. An individual human existence should be like a river – small at first, narrowly contained within its banks, and rushing passionately past rocks and over waterfalls. Gradually the river grows wider, the banks recede, the waters flow more quietly, and in the end, without any visible break, they become merged in the sea, and painlessly lose their individual being. The man who, in old age, can see his life in this way, will not suffer from the fear of death, since the things he cares for will continue. And if, with the decay of vitality, weariness increases, the thought of rest will not be unwelcome. I should wish to die while still at work, knowing that others will carry on what I can no longer do and content in the thought that what was possible has been done.

by Bertrand Russell


雖然有這樣一個標題,這篇文章真正要談的卻是怎樣才能不老。在我這個年紀,這實在是一個至關重要的問題。我的第一個忠告是,要仔細選擇你的祖先。儘管我的雙親皆屬早逝,但是考慮到我的其他祖先,我的選擇還是很不錯的。是的,我的外祖父六十七歲時去世,正值盛年,可是另外三位祖父輩的親人都活到八十歲以上。 至於稍遠些的親戚,我只發現一位沒能長壽的,他死於一種已罕見的病症:被殺頭。我的一位曾祖母是吉本[1]的朋友,她活到九十二歲高齡,一直到死,她始終是讓子孫們全都感到敬畏的人。我的外祖母,一輩子生了十個孩子,活了九個,還有 一個早年夭折,此外還有過多次流産。可是守寡之後,她馬上就致力於婦女的高等教育事業。她是格頓學院[2]的創辦人之一,力圖使婦女進入醫療行業。她總好講起她在義大利遇到過的一位面容悲哀的老年紳士,她詢問他憂鬱的緣故,他說他剛剛失去了兩個孫子。“天哪!”她叫道:“我有七十二個孫兒孫女,如果我每失去一個就要悲傷不止,那我就沒法活了!”“奇怪的母親。”他回答說。但是, 作爲她的七十二個孫兒孫女的一員,我卻要說我更喜歡她的見地。上了八十歲,她開始感到有些難於入睡,她便經常在午夜時分至淩晨三時這段時間裏閱讀科普方面的書籍。我想她根本就沒有工夫去留意她在衰老。我認爲,這就是保持年輕的最佳方法。如果你的興趣和活動既廣泛又濃烈,而且你又能從中感到自己仍然精力旺盛,那麽你就不必去考慮你已經活了多少年這種純粹的統計學情況,更不必去考慮你那也許不很長久的未來。






[1] 〔吉本(1737—1794)〕,英國歷史學家,著有 《羅馬帝國衰亡史》等著作。

[2] 〔格頓學院〕康橋大學的第一所女子學院,建於1869 年。


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s