I am in my early 80s and have lived long enough to experience a lot and always have been able to manage difficult times. As we continue through this current climate, I need a lift. What can you offer? C.N.
Thank you for your question. Here’s one possible antidote: humor.
In 2017, HBO presented a documentary entitled “If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast” that confronted stereotypes about life after age 90. In the film, Carl Reiner has a conversation with several of his friends from show business, challenging what it means to really live in your 90s.
Reiner, the legendary comedian, director and screenwriter, offers himself as Exhibit A at age 95. (Reiner passed away in June 2020 at age 98.) He spoke with other legendary comedians: Filmmaker and funnyman Mel Brooks, age 90; TV icon Norman Lear, age 95; and beloved performer Dick van Dyke age 91.
Comedy is part of these men’s work. Humor can be used as a teaching tool, although it is unlikely that is the intention of these notables. Yet, here are some messages we can extract from these talented funny men. The quotes are from the HBO documentary.
Carl Reiner celebrates humor. Reiner had a running quip about being in his nineties. “Every morning, I pick up my newspaper, get the obituary section and see if I’m listed,” he said. “If I’m not, I have my breakfast.”
What we know: A sense of humor is related to longevity. Adults with an average sense of humor live longer than those who don’t find humor in life, according to researchers. Benefits include decreased blood pressure while laughter boosts the immune system by decreasing the stress hormone cortisol and minimizing inflammation.
Norman Lear talks about culture and flexibility. “I think the culture stereotypes everything,” said Lear. “Because I’m 93, I’m supposed to behave in a certain way. The fact I can touch my toes shouldn’t be so amazing to people.”
What we know: Society seems to have some unrealistic expectations about one’s age and respective appearance, activities and capabilities. Not to be overlooked is Lear’s ability to touch his toes, demonstrating flexibility typically achieved with physical activity. Such activity improves our ability to perform daily physical activities, improves our range of motion and increases our sense of balance, helping us avoid falling and injuries.
Dick Van Dyke suggests dance and song. For a long and good life, Van Dyke suggests that you “sing, dance and laugh everyday.” Without knowing his daily routine, we do know in 2018 Van Dyke played the older cantankerous banker, Mr. Dawes in the movie “Mary Poppins Returns.” He not only danced and sang but jumped on a desk, did a tap dance number and jumped down with a spring and a bounce. Dancing has been found to have results comparable to formal exercise improving emotional, psychological and physical well-being. And it’s fun!
Mel Brooks promotes outrageous humor. During the HBO show, Brooks stood up and told the crowd, “Ladies and gentlemen, the greatest cat sound in the world,” as he broke out into the loudest yowl. As the audience howled, he said,” What the hell do you want? You’re not paying a penny here.”
Reiner refers to him as “the funniest human being in the world.” Age and outrageous are terms typically not paired together., but there is a book entitled, “Be an Outrageous Older Woman” by Ruth Harriet Jacobs. Sometimes outrage is needed to get attention.
At the time of this HBO program, all four men continued to work at a craft and art they loved. And herein lies a message. Having a sense of purpose is a lifesaver; humor is a healer helping us keep a perspective. And laughing is healthy. So, think about ways to do something you love to do, keep your sense of humor, have a good laugh and even do a little dance — while taking a break from the news.
Thank you, C.N., for your good question. To watch the HBO documentary, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6zv_aRiiBmA.
Next week, we’ll identify four women in their 90s, doing what they love to do with a message to all of us. Be safe, well and kind to yourself and others.
Note: A week before Reiner died, he said the following in an interview, “I’ve always got something I’m doing and improving.”
Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging, employment and the new retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at Helendenn@gmail.com. Visit Helen at HelenMdennis.com and follow her on facebook.com/SuccessfulagingCommunity