To take up skydiving when you’re over 70. To perform in a ballet, on stage, at 92. To become a rock star at 75. To run a marathon at 100.
This is not fantasy, but real-life stories of the characters in The Age of Happiness.
Several years ago, the journalist and photographer Vladimir Yakovlev (the founder and former owner of Kommersant newspaper) travelled all over the world, collecting stories of those who continue to lead an active and intense life and live to the full at an elderly age.
The Age of Happiness is a book illustrated with high-quality photographs, including photo portraits of people from Europe, China and America and their inspiring stories. The characters are aged over 60, 70, 70 and even 100, and have not only kept their health, but also the ability to derive pleasure from every day in their lives. Based on his communications with them, the author came up with a new philosophy of age and happiness.
Andrei Chirkov from Moscow, 72, has run millions of kilometers, although at the finishing line of his first marathon 20 years ago, he was taken away in an ambulance. On his 70th birthday, he ran 70 kilometers to celebrate. Duan Jin Fu from Beijing worked for 50 years at a glass factory, and felt like a wreck. Now he is 73 years old, and he can not only do the splits with ease, but performs acrobatic feats which are beyond the ability of some young gymnasts. He has never made use of his medical insurance. 94-year-old Tao Porchon-Lynch from New York gives yoga lessons and dances the tango, samba and other exotic dances, performing acrobatic steps that once led to her accidentally making a hole in the ceiling with the heel of her shoe. Her partners are 23 and 24. Monserrat Mecho (78) from Barcelona made her first parachute jump at the age of 50. Now she is 78, and in the quest for happiness, has made over 1,000 jumps. Valentin Badich from Yekaterinburg could hardly move on his crutches, but refused to undergo surgery on his joints, so he started dancing instead, becoming the most energetic rock-n-roller of the Urals. At the age of 75, he can keep a rockabilly rhythm for three hours non-stop. At the age of 80, John Lowe decided to live out the dream of his life, so he became a ballet dancer, although previously he had worked as a manager, and at 89 he made his debut in the premiere of Prokofiev’s The Stone Flower at the Ely Dance Theater (UK).
In this book, the reader will find around 50 stories about different people, but there are even more stories of this kind in the project! Vladimir Yakolev does not believe that the quality of life is a product of living standards or genetic disposition. Michelangelo began to work on the famous Day of Judgment in the Sistine Chapel at the age of 61. John Glen travelled in space when he was 77. Min Bahadur Sherchan set a world record when only several days short of his 77th birthday he made his first ascent of Mount Everest. The architect Frank Wright began building his famous Guggenheim Museum in the center of New York when he was 76. The project took 16 years.
‘Modern society cultivates discrimination against people over the age of 60, it has practically deprived elderly people of their present, while kindly permitting them to live only for the past. In television programs, people aged 70-80 are mainly comic characters suffering from dementia. It is indecent to be an old person. They are ashamed of themselves, and their bodies. This kills them, or deprives them of the rich life that they could lead, in order to be happy.’ If a 35-year-old person forgets to buy coffee at the shop, it is forgetfulness, but if he is 75, it gets interpreted as a sign of old age. Yakovlev’s book rejects age-related stereotypes. At the age of 60, 70, 80, 90 and 100, protagonists in the stories recorded by him live a life that is fuller and richer physically, intellectually and creatively than it is for many people at the age of 30, 40 and 50.
People nowadays live to the age of 80-90. The first 30 years are a period of study and of accumulating experience; subsequent 30 years are a time for self-realization, while the final 30 years could become a time to realize your own desires. There is a good reason why many elderly people do not want to return to their youth. Many of the characters in the book believe that the age after 60 is the most productive time in their lives. Their duties to society have been fulfilled, their children have grown up, they have plenty of time, and so they can embark on their own path to happiness. Isn’t that something that you dream of all your life?
Yakovlev tries to discover what all of these people have in common. What did Chinese monks, busy Europeans, active Americans and former boozers from Russia see in life that enabled them to become happy in their twilight years? The author searches for the formula of their happiness.
The book contains excerpts from the results of numerous studies performed by scientists in different countries and focusing on people who live for a long time. Of course, it is important to watch what you eat and do sports, but this is far from being the whole secret of the rich and happy lives led by the people in this book.
The American comedy actor George Burns continued to appear in films when he was over 90. Once he was asked what his doctor thought about him smoking cigars. The actor replied, ‘My doctor is dead’. One of the heroines of this book, the 103-year-old practicing therapist Hedda Bolgar, replied to the author’s question about her preferences in sport by saying that she had not played much sport for the last 80 years. The 84-year-old scientist Jacques Fresco believes that the most important thing is for the ‘brain to stay in working condition’, and that this can be only achieved by putting it to good use. Buster Martin, who lived to be 104, drank dark beer all his life, smoked and even ran the London marathon holding a mug of beer. The author believes that longevity is by no means always achieved through physical exertion or diets, or other things commonly associated with longevity. The most important factor shared by all his heroes is their attitude to life. Many of them have rather unhappy life stories to tell, but they do not believe that what had happened to them was unjust. They are not angry with life. They wake up in the morning ready for what the day will bring them. They do what is in their power. They all plunge themselves in their pursuits whole-heartedly, and love it. ‘We may conclude that to create happiness, one can make good use of everything: dedication, willpower, overcoming your weaknesses and loving your body,’ Vladimir Yakovlev states.
This book is the best present for anyone over 60. But as it turned out (two print-runs of this expensive publication sold out in Russia in a few months), the children of ‘old people’ read it with just as much enthusiasm. ‘We work, do renovations, rush to meet deadlines and constantly wait for this madness to end, and for life to begin. Tomorrow. But when this “tomorrow” comes, we call it retirement and give up on having a full life. The Age of Happiness is about how to bring forward this very “tomorrow”. It is also about what values are genuine ones, and how it would be good to find a place for them in the life of today, but on the whole, it’s never too late.’ This was the case with Ruth Flowers from Bristol. After her beloved husband died, the 68-year-old Ruth, a former singing teacher, learned to master tracks and make DJ sets. Now she is 72, and she is one of the most popular DJs around: she performs in the best clubs of the world, and literally lives on a plane, flying from one end of the Earth to another. She is happy, and only regrets that she has no time to give talks about her favorite writer Charles Dickens.