14 Personality Types of Early Old Agers

About two years ago, when I started this blog “On the philosophy, psychology, sociology, and spirituality of aging,” my goal was, and still is, to share the results of my research along with my personal opinions and experiences on these four topics of interest.

I started reading a lot about aging because I had turned 62 and wanted to stay abreast of the best ways and means to age gracefully and productively.

More than anything else I wanted to find information about how to pursue life as close as possible to my true and authentic self. I think this kind of feeling is common among early older agers, those in their fifties or early sixties. It’s a period when new approaches to how you spend your time start creeping into your daily thoughts and activities (the if-not-now-when mindset).

This pursuit continues in earnest.  All the studying and reading (a great deal of which falls under philosophy and psychology) has resulted in this perhaps-strange-to-some armchair psychologist desire to outline a personal theory that briefly details personality types of early old agers like myself. This is the kind of thing that a professional psychologist would be more qualified to write than me, but so be it.

Thus far, I have come up with 14 personality types of early old agers. I’m sure some, if not many, people will see this as an entirely fruitless endeavor, lacking in significant meaning. Basically, these are my own, non-professional observations, and we are all uniquely different in how we observe the world we live in.

The concept of 14 personality types I am proposing here has multiple meanings that at the very least have increased self and external awareness about early old age. I’m sharing them here to possibly get a reaction from any readers, positive or negative. So, please free to voice opinions, etc. in the comments section at the end of this piece or send a note directly to me at george@understandingxyz.com.

Here they are in no order and of no standard length:

  1. The Re-evaluator – I came up with this term from the late Dr. Gene D. Cohen’s book, “The Mature Mind: The Positive Power of the Aging Brain.” Cohen devised four progressive phases of our elder years. The first phase, Cohen wrote, happens somewhere between forty and sixty-five, when people “undergo a profound reevaluation, asking themselves ‘Where have I been? Where am I now? Where am I going?’” More on this at “How R U Aging.”
  2. The Epicure – Our 21st century definition of an “epicure” is a bit off the mark – we think of an epicure as someone who partakes in the best of everything, an extraordinary pleasure seeker who eats only the finest food, smokes the best cigars, stays in luxurious accommodations, has a marvelous sex life, etc. The ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus, however, promoted that the highest pleasure was intellectualism, “the greatest good is peace of mind, not exquisite physical pleasure.” [1] I think early old agers under this category simply want to relax in the unassuming comforts of their homes and surroundings, perhaps spending a good amount of their time  reading and socializing with a small group of like-minded friends, as they are no longer required to answer to job and career responsibilities.
  3. The Activist and Volunteer – I believe this is the finest, most honorable early old age personality type. These are people whose main goals in life are to help eliminate suffering and spread the word about proper ethics in politics and society in general. They may have already gone through a re-evaluation phase and have chosen to live their lives promoting and supporting the greater good. They are selfless, with a eudaimonic mindset not overly stirred by hedonistic pursuits. More on this at “Scholars on Aging Series: Transcendence for a Good Life.”
  4. La Familia – Caring and supportive grandparents occupy this slot, as well as non-grandparents who work tirelessly toward maintaining peace and harmony within often discordant family-oriented matters. They keep the family glue intact, organizing family get-togethers, always being the gracious host. Consistent with this thinking, the authors of an interesting Research on Aging paper published in 2009 claim that the death of a parent, for instance, “was associated with a decrease in sibling closeness.”
  5. The Workaholic – These are people who refuse to even semi-retire. They enjoy their work so much that they stay on a full-time basis for as long as physically and mentally possible. Their work gives them meaning and purpose in spades. In many ways they are fortunate because they have found their career path to be financially and mentally satisfactory and even thoroughly enjoyable. However, I believe there is another side to this way of living that is not so optimistic. I’ve written several posts on this topic. More on this at “The Economics of Soul vs a Job in Old Age” and at “Ruminating on Otium: Perspectives on the Contemplative Life and Retirement.”
  6. The Aesthetic – “Pursuing and nurturing the arts and humanities in old age can contribute to having more purpose and a non-stop continuation of personal growth, and thus higher levels of eudaimonic well-being. It all seems so obvious, really. As we begin to exit our work/career lives, paying closer attention to the world of art and humanities certainly feels like a wise (and fun) choice to make for better overall health.” This is from one of my Scholars on Aging posts at “Scholars on Aging Series: How Art Can Save You.”
  7. The Diogene – I was recently introduced to an ancient Greek philosopher I was not very familiar with, Diogenes, an avid believer of the “Cynicism” school of thought that had a strong following for about 400 years, from the fourth century B.C.E. through the first century C.E. Cynics believed that Athens was essentially corrupt. They saw the pursuit of power and riches as a dishonest and hypocritical endeavor. Cynics were non-materialistic. They lived highly austere lives. “They distrusted luxury as a hook that always brought complications and ultimately frustrations into people’s lives.” They were a sarcastic, independent lot who believed that most of mankind had gone astray by following the money-chasing status-quo. Diogene himself “was unwashed and rough-looking, he scrounged for food, and he refused to follow conventional standards of dress and behavior.” [2]  For some, old age brings a certain taste of cynicism to everything, I think, and I can relate to the desire to live a more austere and simple life away from the crazy fracas of life in the twenty-first century. Wouldn’t go as far as Diogene did, but I respect him.
  8. The Infirm – The obvious fact that a good number of early old agers will start experiencing dramatic changes in their health and well-being to a point of serious debilitation is a very sad state of affairs. Issues related to healthcare insurance, Medicare and Medicaid exacerbate this issue for those who live on very limited budgets as they enter retirement and are flat out unable to work because of poor health and/or ageism. Who will help take care of these folks and how will it all be paid for? An informative read on this topic comes from Al-Jen Poo, author of “The Age of Dignity: Preparing for the Elder Boom in a Changing America.” There’s plenty of disturbing details in Poo’s book. For starters, she calls the rapidly growing institutionalization of elder citizens, due primarily to the longevity revolution, “undignified and unhealthy.” She writes that “a fundamental problem with our current health care system is that its measure of success is the delay of death, rather than the quality of life. Living with dignity, feeling comfortable, and having self-determined, steadfast loving care until the end should be our goals for health care for our elders.”
  9. The Theologian – Many folks in old age become more religious. I think it comes mostly from a fear of the possibility of eternal damnation for non-believers that some religions vehemently espouse. I knew an older man in his seventies, for instance, who attended two early morning masses each day at the Catholic church in which I was an altar boy. He never attended mass in the decades before his seventies. It may have been his way of atoning for sins of the past, or it may have been simply as a means to connect to something spiritual, something transcendent, on a more frequent basis, as his aging self placed him closer to death. One of my favorite books on the topic of religion is Thomas Moore’s “A Religion of One’s Own: A Guide to Creating a Personal Spirituality in a Secular World.” He writes: “A religion of one’s own is a process, not a static state, with forward and backward movements. It is rarely a steady evolution. It is both painful and wearisome and full of uncertainty. It is spiritual and psychological, theological and emotional, social and intensely individual.” At least for me, these kinds of feelings about religion and spirituality rise up more frequently as I grow old. See “The Wise Path.”
  10. The Lifelong Learner – I have this intense craving to learn. I must become smarter, enlightened if you will. I’m always reaching for a book. So I read, read, and read – more than ever. I have always been a voracious reader, being an English major in college. I have actually found myself reading and studying more than when I was a college student. My learning quests are different this time around. While I enjoy studying philosophy, psychology, sociology and spirituality, I’m also more interested in science, particularly astronomy and evolution, and, for some unknowable reason, urbanization and population studies. I’ve even entertained math studies, where I have never gone beyond very basic algebra. Why? I need to learn more before I die. The clock has been ticking louder since I reached early old age, and I’m sure it will increasingly continue to do so. See some of my early research on this topic at “In Pursuit of Wisdom.”
  11. The Health Nut– Staying healthy is an obvious concern, and if you were not the healthiest individual during your younger years (as I was), you are probably at least a bit more conscious of how you eat, exercise, sleep, etc. as you grow older. I firmly believe one way of staying fit, beyond proper diet and exercise, is to take advantage of modern health-monitoring tools and resources. I wrote about this in a post titled “The Lucky Years of Old Age.”
  12. The Stoic – Stoicism is in many ways all about acceptance – controlling what you are able to control and accepting what you cannot change. How appropriate in old age. . . The beginnings of Stoicism in ancient Greece comprise some of the most interesting philosophical sagas in history, going back to the founder of Stoicism, Zeno (334-262 B.C.E.). One of the most famous Stoics is Marcus Aurelius, known as the “philosopher king.” Another famous Stoic was a Epictetus, who was a slave. While I agree with the acceptance motif behind Stoicism, I’m not so sure about some of the other tents of their philosophy that put everything into the hands of a pre-determined omnipotent fate, or what they called a “World Reason” or “Cosmic Mind.”  From Seneca, another famous Stoic:

We are all chained to [fate]. . . All of us are in custody; the binders as well as the bound. . . some are chained by office; some weighed down by high birth, some by low; some are subject to another’s tyranny, some to their own, some are confined to one spot by banishment; some by a priesthood. All life is bondage.

Epictetus adds:

Remember that thou art an actor in a play, of such kind as the author may choose: if short, a shot one; if long, a long one. . . [3]

In other words, your time on this planet is already written in stone and there is nothing you can do about it. I think a lot of old folk are Stoics.

  1. The Card Player – These are the gambling types who find immense joy in pushing slot-machine buttons, ink-dotting bingo specials, playing gin or pinnacle (pick your card game), rolling the dice or taking blackjack hits on the green felts, and cheering on their favorite thoroughbred. They are fond of big, comfortable buses that take them to gawdy mega centers of chance and buffet dining, where the real world slips away into temporary oblivion. Not much to say here without sounding like a self-righteous fool, except “good luck.”
  2. The Lonely Soul – There’s a new loneliness epidemic that has been generated, in large part, by our acceptance of modern digital technologies like smartphones; the Internet; and social media that have a tendency to take us away from face-to-face interactions without us really knowing it. Also the younger generation’s frequent mobility in order to keep pace with changing job markets and opportunities in modern times, results in more older, empty nesters experiencing much longer periods of time away from their grown-up children and younger grandchildren. See one of my more popular posts, titled “Why Consistent Isolation Will Not Kill You, Despite What the Research Says.”   

To conclude, I’m a few months away from 65. I definitely feel old. Each day I am reminded of my diminishment on various physical and mental fronts – but not debilitatingly – just a slightly slower pace and slight lack in my overall production. I’m still fairly active. My mental acuity is damn good and strong. Overall, I’m an amalgam of each of these personality types, with the Re-evaluator, Lifelong Learner, and Aesthetic holding the top spots.

I’m sure I could have come up with several more personality types (The Curmudgeon and The Complainer and The World Traveler come to mind), but for now, 14 is more than enough to chomp on.

What do you think?

Thanks for stopping by,

George

End Notes:

[1] Douglas J. Soccio. “Archetypes of Wisdom: An Introduction to Philosophy,” (7th edition). Wadsworth, Cengage Learning. 2007.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

4 comments

  1. I am definitely the activist volunteer with a healthly dose of life long learner. I am learning all sorts of things that I previously had no interest in…like…ageing, grief, seniors housing, urban development, hula dancing, tai chi and the spiritual. I also am learning to play the harp..(should be practising as I type 🙂 which was even more expected. I have developed a very interesting global and local network having moved back to Victoria 5 years ago. I would never have imagined it. I am on a bit of quest without really knowing what it will look like in the end. I just know that it will unfold if I keep moving. I am motivated by being of service and love of our planet and others. Other categories I have been assigned include “warrior princess” and “challenger priestess. Fun.

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