If cows can be content, why can’t old people?

They do have things in common, you know, like being put out to pasture. How many of you remember the advertising slogan “Carnation Condensed Milk, the milk from contented cows”?

Elbridge Amos Stuart was born in North Carolina (like I was) in 1856 (like I wasn’t). He was an American milk industrialist and creator of Carnation evaporated milk which was a staple in American homes until the 1960s. In 1907, he introduced the promotional phrase “Carnation Condensed Milk, the milk from contented cows”. This slogan referred to the higher quality milk from happy cows grazing in the lush Pacific Northwest. Carnation cows held the world milk production record for 32 consecutive years. That is some accomplishment for those who have been put out to pasture.

Old people and cows have more in common than being put out to pasture. Their lives consist of the basics of eating and sleeping. Cows are content with that if the grass is good. As cows go about their pastoral life they unthinkingly produce milk. The quality of the pasture makes a difference in the quality of what they produce. For old people, the quality of the person they are makes a difference in their contentment level when in the pasture. Unfortunately, most older people are not thinking about the kind of person they are. They are thinking about the pasture they have found themselves in and most are not content.

I believe that by middle-age people should be paying attention to the kind of person they are because that is the kind of old person they will be if they do not change. The character traits of being aggressive, looking out for yourself first, getting ahead of the pack, etc. that society demands of up-and-coming adults will only get you ostracized to the back of the pack when you are out to pasture. That is not  a receipt for contentment in old age. What is needed is a paradigm for contentment for old people.

Here are some excerpts from Chapter 1 of my book The Kind of Old Man I Want to Be: A paradigm for 65 and beyond that will be released September 1, 2016:

What would make a person content in their old age? The answer is obvious. People who have family close by, financial security, and good health are the most content. Remember that we Baby Boomers broke all the rules and we are paying the price as we enter old age. The divorce rate for this generation is the highest in US history. Families are shattered and scattered. Consumer credit has overextended us to where the markets cannot support us and the value of retirement funds has taken a severe hit in recent years. Good health can go in a second, and we are less likely to have it the older we get. The obvious basis for contentment in old age is not the reality for most of us old people.

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Back when I had my 65th birthday I realized that the majority of the people in the world would consider me an old man. I am in the minority (i.e., in denial), so I got to thinking about what kind of old man I wanted to be when I got to be one. I did not want it to just happen. I did not want to just morph into an old man, so I decided to be proactive and choose the kind of old man I wanted to be and then to take steps to be that kind of person. I don’t want to be old, but it is the only way I know to have a long life.

As I am writing this, my wife and I are about halfway between 65 and 70 years old. We still have good health and are able to go and do; however, we are finding it takes us longer to get over going and doing. I write about the kind of old man I want to be with my wife in mind. She will have to put up with whatever kind of old man I am and she deserves the best, so, I will try to be the best old man I can.

I also write with my mother in mind. She died in her early 80’s after a few years in a nursing home. Her experience there gave me the opportunity to observe older people at their most vulnerable. There were some who were a joy to be around and some that the attendants were not paid enough to be around. What was the difference?

This was about 20 years ago and I started thinking then that a place like this could very well be my future. Some, like my mother, were not able to walk; some were not able to talk. Could I handle this if it was me? When I turned 65 I realized that the possibilities have become probabilities and I better get busy preparing myself for being an old man. What kind of old man do I want to be?

Now, I don’t claim to know how the milk got in the coconut, but I am reasonably intelligent and I should be able to figure this old man thing out. I don’t want to be like many old men who, like I said before, look for things to do to kill time while time is killing them. I have learned to look thoughtful even when I am not thinking, but I have also done a lot of actual thinking about the kind of old man I want to be.

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There are some things that I cannot do anything about and there are some things that I can. So, I will concentrate on the things I can be proactive about. One is my character or personality. I do not want to be a grumbling, complaining old man. I want to be an old man who is positive and not negative. I want to have the temperament that makes for happiness and contentment for me and those around me.

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