Even the name of the system inspires energy and passion. Are you ready to set your life on FIRE?
FIRE is Finance and Philosophy
FIRE (short for Financial Independence, Retire Early) is served in many flavors, all of which are based on core ingredients listed on Reddit’s financial independence sub-reddit.
At first blush, the principles look like they’ve been copied and pasted from your garden-variety personal finance blog: spend less, grow your income, harness the power of compounding. But FIRE really is more of a life philosophy than anything, combining personal finance with a DIY work ethic, opportunistic side hustles, life hacking, and the tenets of anti-consumerism.
Where the FIRE community definitely breaks from the personal finance pack is in its approach to spending and saving.
Set Your Savings on Fire
Perhaps you’ve already internalized the lessons of investing in low-cost, tax efficient mutual funds; of contributing just enough to your 401(k)s to get the employer matching; of padding the pot with some part-time work or other side hustle that brings in cash. That’s great, but it’s probably not enough to achieve FIRE.
When it comes to saving, FIRE does not screw around. According to the aforementioned sub-reddit, FIRE’s adherents strive “to save a large percentage (generally more than 50 percent) of your income to accelerate achieving FI.” This is quite a break from the dismal US savings rate, which clocked in at 2.7 percent in 2016. Layer in our proclivity for debt (and lingering student loans) and you can see that FIRE is an indirect rebellion against consumerism.
Now, there are two ways to boost your savings: by (not-so-easily) increasing your income or by (painstakingly, but anyone can do it) reducing your spending. Guess FIRE comes down on that one? “Your wants and needs aren’t written in stone, and less spending is powerful at any income level,” the financial independence subreddit reminds us.
And yet it’s one thing to cut spending here and there, and quite another to follow the FIRE principle of “simplifying and redesigning your lifestyle to reduce spending.”
Just researching this story, though, I picked up some non-obvious behaviors that, put to regular use, might help me hit an aggressive savings goal, while simultaneously improving my quality of life. For example, I could take advantage of living in a dense and bike-able city to cut down on commuting expenses, all the while forcing myself to exercise. And instead of eating out, an alternative “affordable luxury” could be learning to cook.
This could even become a productive family bonding activity that also satisfies a creative urge, all the while improving our health (and of course saving money). The next level of FIRE includes elaborate strategies around credit-card churning and travel hacking, neither of which are for the fainthearted. The former involves signing up for new credit cards to capture the bonus (typically cash or airline miles), hitting the minimum spend, and then canceling before you have to pay the annual fee.
To hit the minimum spend (and liberate yourself to move on to the next card) there are more aggressive strategies like buying gift cards to places where you know you’ll shop in the future (i.e. Target or Amazon) or prepaying large expenses like insurance. While churning can be a profitable activity, it requires meticulous organization (one missed payment can wipe out the gains) and can hurt your credit in the short-term.
Most of the rewards from churning are in the form of airline miles. Travel hacking is the practice of arbitraging these miles to get the, umm, most mileage. Travel hackers delight in the fact that each accumulated point has a plethora of conversion options to maximize its value as a mile. A vanilla airline mile is generally understood to be worth 1 cent to 1.5 cents, yet travel hackers boast about redeeming a first class flight at what equates to amounts as high as 9.7 cents per mile.
What makes these sacrifices worthwhile? The holy grail is getting your total savings to equal 25 times your annual spending, a calculation implied by the Safe Withdrawal Rate, or SWR. The SWR, generally accepted to be 4%, is the amount one can safely withdraw from their nest egg, without risking running out of money.
Makes Sense, but it Ain’t for Me
Thankfully there are different kinds of FIRE to fit different kinds of lifestyles. There’s FatFIRE, for example, for those living in high cost cities (i.e. requiring $2 million of savings in New York City) while seeking to achieve FIRE with a “great lifestyle;” and leanFire for those capping expenses at under $40k.
Still unconvinced that FIRE is for you? Consider the final principle on Reddit’s main financial independence page: Discovering and achieving life goals: “What would I do with my life if I didn’t have to work for money?”
This cuts to FIRE’s existential core and applies to everybody. What is the relationship between your happiness and your money? What is freedom from the corporate grind worth to you—but more importantly, what would you do with this newfound freedom? For those of us slogging away at our desks decades away from retirement, it might feel like a moot point. But are we just subconsciously avoiding contemplation of the deeper meaning of our lives?
Mr. Money Mustache (nee Peter Adeney) is the frugality movement’s de facto chief evangelist. A former software engineer who blogs about personal finance, he says he and his wife cut back on spending and regularly saved two-thirds of their salaries, enabling them to retire in their early 30s. Free from the grind, Adeney theorizes that money obfuscates our understanding of ourselves and that FIRE is a mere beacon toward happiness. As he once told the Mad Fientist’s Financial Independence podcast:
By understanding what happiness means and helping to decouple the idea of happiness from owning certain things, you can really amaze yourself at how fun your life can be—because that’s the whole secret to living a rich life; it’s not feeling like you need more than you already have. … [R]etirement and early retirement and financial independence, it’s really a quest for happiness. So study that independently of the money, and then that makes the money part easier.
So much parenting advice focuses on the slog of the early years: How to manage sleep, feeding, tantrums, and the like. And while much of these efforts are in service of a long-term goal—raising an adult human you can be proud of—there’s much less out there that addresses life with that human as they come into their own.
Novelist Yang Huang explores that space in her latest book, My Good Son, allowing the reader to observe how parenting has shaped father and son, especially as some of the more complex, even morally questionable questions arise in the son’s burgeoning adulthood. Add in the setting—post-Tiananmen China—and a cleverly-positioned American father-son relationship to serve as the foil, and it’s a loving and intricate study of what it means to be a good Chinese parent.
Here, Huang turns her gaze to how different cultures approach the measure of being a “good parent,” sharing her research on how geography and traditions inform the many ways families grow and thrive. She explains:
“Although all of my fiction talks about parenting from both the parents’ and children’s perspectives, I have not read a book on parenting before! Finding parenting stories around the world opens my eyes and also affirms my values in many ways.”
Yang Huang: “Don’t just blame a child’s short attention span on video games. Perhaps we can learn from Maya parenting—they motivate children to pay attention by giving them autonomy. When a child is setting the goal, they also learn to manage their own attention, rather than relying on adults to tell them what to do.”
YH: “Dutch parents raise the happiest children, in no small part helped by the government policies. Still, there are many things Americans can learn from, such as the family eating breakfast together, and children biking in all weathers. The Dutch have high ambitions for their children and see happiness as a means to success, the gateway to self-awareness, intrinsic motivation, independence, and positive ties with their communities.”
YH: “Children are drawn to things that we adults fear. We want to protect them and childproof their lives away. But does it work? People in Norway, Japan, and many other cultures, believe that the greatest safety precaution you can give a child is to let them take risks, so they can hone their judgement about what is safe and what is not, physically, emotionally, and socially.”
YH: “Here, an American journalist and mother speaks about what she learned from French parenting. (She’s speaking French, but the subtitles are in English.) She appeals to a French audience without pandering to them, and admits that American parenting aims to speed up the stages of our children’s development, calling it ‘a giant race from the cradle.’ Fortunately, she learns to parent with conventional French wisdom, which she summarizes into eight phrases: Hello, wait, be wise, you have to try it, balance, autonomy, it’s my decision, and poop sausage. Simple, right? Hear how she interprets them with glee and humility.”
YH: “Before becoming Marvel’s first Asian superhero, Canadian actor Simu Liu had a childhood strikingly similar to mine, although we are not the same generation and grew up in different continents. His teenage angst mirrors my character Feng in my novel My Good Son. In broad strokes, Liu tells a timeless Chinese parenting story where a child learns to transform their anger and resentment into understanding and admiration for their parents. And that is a superhero feat.”
On Wednesday, 32 years after English computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee penned “Information Management: A Proposal,” the genesis of the World Wide Web, Sotheby’s auctioned the Web’s original source code for $5.4 million. It was, of course, in the form of a nonfungible token aka an NFT.
The source code for the Web was sold to an anonymous buyer, according to Sotheby’s. There were a total of 51 bids on the NFT.
“NFTs, be they artworks or a digital artifact like this, are the latest playful creations in this realm, and the most appropriate means of ownership that exists, Berners-Lee said in a statement about the auction. “They are the ideal way to package the origins behind the Web.”
Sotheby conducted the auction, titled “This changed everything” from June 23 through June 30 with the bidding starting at $1,000. The British-founded global marketplace for art collectibles has recently added digital collectibles such as NFTs to its offerings. The proceeds from the $5.4 million will go toward initiatives that Tim Berners-Lee supports, including his open source technology Solid.
NFTs are rapidly becoming a way for members of the digital community to create a virtual museum and document historic moments on the internet, whether that was the $4 million sale of the Doge meme NFT or when Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey sold an NFT of his first tweet for $2.9 million or when digital artist Itzel Yard sold an NFT art made from the key of the first Tor Browser, making her the highest-selling female NFT artist.
Gauthier Zuppinger is the co-founder of nonfungible.com, a database that tracks the sales of NFTs and crypto collectibles. He compared the source code to CryptoPunks, one of the first non-fungible tokens on the Ethereum blockchain. Zuppinger says the code’s singularity and its monumental role in the foundation of the digital world contributed to the skyrocketing bidding price for the NFT.
So what exactly does the anonymous buyer receive? It doesn’t receive any unique usage rights because the source code for the web has been public domain since 1991 when CERN released the worldwide web code library.
The NFT itself contains a myriad of technical tid-bits and gemstones in the history of the Web. The four elements include the original time-stamped files containing the code that was written between October,1990, and August, 1991. The 9,555 lines of code written in the Objective-C programming language depicts the application of three inventions made by the physicist-turned-software engineer: HTML (Hypertext Markup Language); HTTP (Hyper Transfer Protocol); and URIs (Uniform Resource Identifiers). The buyer will also receive a letter from Berners-Lee, an animated visualization and a digital poster of the code.
“As people seem to appreciate the autographed versions of books, now we have NFT technology, I thought it could be fun to make an autographed copy of the original code of the first web browser,” Berners-Lee’s statement reads.
Apart from being the man behind the Web, Berners-Lee is also a director of the World Wide Web consortium, which looks over the development of the Web. As the co-founder and chief technology officer of Inrupt, he is honing open source technology called Solid to come closer to his original vision for the Web to be a shared information space for all members of the society.
Dr. Merav Ozair, an expert on cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology and a fintech faculty member at Rutgers Business School, compared the NFT sale of the World Wide Web source code to the historic moment when the founding fathers of the United States of America signed the Declaration of Independence. The only difference is that the code that created the web also changed the way the world functions today.
“This was also a historic moment when he created a code that initiated everything, and this is not something only for the U.S. it’s for the global community, everywhere,” she says.
Ozair says the auction marks the kick off of Web 3.0, a version of the web where cryptocurrencies thrive.
The source code for the web is already public domain. In fact, Berners-Lee fought with CERN officials for it to be that way, says Marc Webber, the curatorial director of the internet history program at the Computer History Museum.
“It’s a little bit paradoxical. You know, you’ve got an NFT on this completely public domain open thing,” says Webber, who has been researching the history of the web since 1995.
The auction has instigated curiosity about web history, Webber says. But the commodification of computer and technology history could make it difficult for museum curators like him to procure such digital artifacts when NFTs offer the owner lump sum pay-offs and a wide audience.
Webber says that Berners-Lee has had multiple opportunities to cash in on his invention but has always chosen not to so that the web remains in the public domain. “I do know that this is not like a simple ploy to get money,” he says.
I write about tech startups and innovation. I am receiving my master’s degree in magazine journalism from the University of Missouri. I’ve previously written and worked for Vox Magazine in Columbia, Missouri and Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City.
A non-fungible token (NFT) is a unit of data stored on a digital ledger, called a blockchain, that certifies a digital asset to be unique and therefore not interchangeable. NFTs can be used to represent items such as photos, videos, audio, and other types of digital files. Access to any copy of the original file, however, is not restricted to the buyer of the NFT. While copies of these digital items are available for anyone to obtain, NFTs are tracked on blockchains to provide the owner with a proof of ownership that is separate from copyright.
The NFT market value tripled in 2020, reaching more than $250 million. During the first quarter of 2021, NFT sales exceeded $2 billion. A non-fungible token (NFT) is a unit of data stored on a digital ledger, called a blockchain, which can be sold and traded. The NFT can be associated with a particular digital or physical asset (a file or a physical object) and a license to use the asset for a specified purpose. NFTs (and the associated license to use, copy or display the underlying asset) can be traded and sold on digital markets.
NFTs function like cryptographic tokens, but unlike cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, are not mutually interchangeable, in other words, not fungible (e.g. one bitcoin is equivalent to any other bitcoin while every NFT may represent a different underlying asset and thus have a different value). NFTs are created when blockchains string records of cryptographic hash, a set of characters identifying a set of data, onto previous records therefore creating a chain of identifiable data blocks.
This cryptographic transaction process ensures the authentication of each digital file by providing a digital signature that is used to track NFT ownership. However, data links that point to details like where the art is stored can die.The speculative market for NFTs has led more investors to trade at greater volumes and rates.The buying surge of NFTs was called an economic bubble by experts, who also compared it to the Dot-com bubble.
It’s ridiculous that anyone could complain about raking in $350,000 a year, and it’s clear many of these folks are wildly out of touch with how privileged they are. But while these families may be extreme (and annoying), they aren’t alone. It’s not just the wealthy who fall into the trap of earning more only to spend more and feel just as dissatisfied.
The answer is not to compare yourself with others (Jeff Bezos will always be there to make you feel bad), or to blindly try to keep making more (there will always be some shiny, new thing to covet). The answer is to take a hard look at your own financial realities and aspirations and come up with a goal number. How much money is enough for you?
The Science of Money and Happiness
That number will be different for everyone, depending on your circumstances and values, but science can give us some sense of how much money might be “enough.” Research shows that up to a certain threshold (studies consistently put it at about $75,000 dollars a year, give or take a bit depending on cost of living) money has a big impact on both day-to-day happiness and life satisfaction.
If you’re below this level, making more will likely make you significantly happier. But beyond that point, each additional dollar adds a little less to your life. There is a level of wealth way before Bill Gates status that trading more effort and time for more money ceases to make sense (even Bill Gates says so).
Name Your Number
One way to calculate that point is to figure out how much money you’d need to make decisions based entirely on enjoyment and impact, without pressure to earn. This is the goal of the catchily named FIRE movement (for financial independence, retire early). Its boosters generally say that 25X your expected annual expenses is enough. So if $50,000 a year is enough for you to live comfortably, you need to save $1.25 million.
Suppose you’re one of five people who have been selected by a mysterious philanthropist to participate in a contest. The five of you all have comparable debt-levels and costs-of-living, as well as similar, middle-class financial situations. You’re all roughly the same age, equally healthy, have the same number of children, and you all live moderately low-risk lifestyles. Privately, and one by one, a representative of the donor approaches each of you with a blank check and a pen, and poses the following question:
How much money would you have to be paid, right here and now, to retire today and never receive another dollar of income (from any source) for the rest of your life?
The catch this time is that whoever among the five players writes the lowest amount on the check will be paid that sum. The other four players will get nothing.
This thought experiment forces you to cut away the natural impulse to aim ever upward (if you do that you’ll bid too high and get nothing). That result is however much you ask for is your number, the amount you’d need to live comfortably and pursue your goals if status and lifestyle inflation weren’t a factor.
Your answer might be a little bit higher or lower than mine or your neighbor’s. That’s fine. It’s not important everyone agree on a number. The important thing is that we each reflect enough to have one.
Because the alternative is being one of those people confessing online how you burn through a healthy six-figure salary and still feel stressed and dissatisfied. Your expenses and desires can be infinite. If you don’t want to chase them miserably forever, you need to put a cap on your financial ambitions yourself.
By: Jessica Stillman
This post originally appeared on Inc. and was published February 5, 2020. This article is republished here with permission.
Marcus, Greil, “Fear in the Marketplace: Real-Life Rock Top Ten 1979”, New West, January 11, 1980
Marcus, Greil, “Free Speech, #1”, Artforum, May 1984.
Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (Illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 173. ISBN0-646-11917-6. N.B. The Kent Report chart was licensed by ARIA between 1983 and 19 June 1988.
It was recently my birthday. It wasn’t a “big” birthday — one of those round-numbered ones that feels like a milestone — but nevertheless it got me thinking about aging.
When I was a kid, growing older felt like an achievement. Each year that passed marked one step closer to adulthood, which for me meant independence and freedom. I remember going to the city with my dad to see plays or go to the Met and seeing a group of women having lunch in a café. It seemed glamorous and exciting to be an adult. I couldn’t wait.
Likewise, I never quite understood the popular antipathy toward old age. At Spencer’s, a novelty store at the Galleria Mall in White Plains where my friends and I would find gag gifts, I was always perplexed by the section of “Over the Hill” merchandise. I mean, my grandparents didn’t listen to my music or play Nintendo with me, but they were cool in their own way — not crusty and out of touch like the caricatures suggested. The geezer jokes and “lying about your age” punchlines that adorned the mugs and t-shirts there seemed to come from another world, one that didn’t make sense to me.
In my 20s and 30s, friends would casually toss around the phrase “We’re so old!” I rolled my eyes. We were so young, I felt, and why should we waste that youth focused on what was already behind us? After all, right at that moment we were the youngest we would ever be.
My 20s were miles better than my teens — more expansive, less cloistered — and my 30s better than my 20s. I became more confident in my 30s, I got into therapy and dealt with years of childhood trauma, I learned to communicate my needs and be more mindful of the needs of others. I wouldn’t trade the growth of these past decades for fewer lines on my face or grey hairs on my head.
Author Heather Havrilesky wrote: “Growing old gracefully really means either disappearing or sticking around but always lying straight to people’s faces about the strength of your feelings and desires.”
Now that I’m in my 40s, though, aging isn’t some future concept. Just being alive means growing older, so yes, we’ve all been aging since we were born. But at a certain point, the notion of what life will be like in a couple of decades starts to feel more real, and then I start to reflect more on what my current choices mean for that future me.
I look back and wonder what my work-hard-play-hard 20s mean for me now. Could I have had a healthier body today if I had been kinder to it when I was younger? And could being gentler now give me more joy and freedom in the future?
The dominant discourse on aging, especially when it comes to women, revolves around “aging gracefully.” This generally involves looking at least three to five years younger than you actually are, while not appearing to do anything to get that way. It also means “acting your age,” by wearing age-appropriate clothes (mini skirts have an expiration date, apparently), having age-appropriate hair and doing age-appropriate activities — but maybe doing one or two surprisingly youthful things (surfing, maybe, or tap dancing) that don’t seem like you’re trying too hard yet let people know you’re still in the game.
As author Heather Havrilesky writes in her biting essay on the topic, “I think about how growing old gracefully really means either disappearing or sticking around but always lying straight to people’s faces about the strength of your feelings and desires.”
The only way to age and be deemed acceptable is to have lucky genes or to conceal your battles against time underneath a practiced smile.
“Aging gracefully” entails walking a tightrope between a youth-obsessed society, which tells us that our value declines as we age, and a culture that says nothing is as uncool as desperation, the fervent desire for something we can’t have. Marketers stoke our desire for youthfulness as the ticket to remaining relevant, then shame us when our efforts to preserve that youth go awry.
So the person who ages without thought to their appearance is written off as “having given up,” and the one whose face remains 35 forever thanks to the surgeon’s knife is considered a joke, and the only way to be deemed acceptable is to have lucky genes or to conceal your battles against time underneath a practiced smile. It all sounds exhausting, doesn’t it?
And so I’ve been thinking about how we move beyond this damaging — and frankly misogynistic — frame. What if instead of seeing aging as something to defeat and conquer, we were to embrace what gets better with age, and work to amplify these joys while mitigating the losses of youth? I’m not suggesting we paper over the very real challenges, both physical and mental, that come with aging. But can we view these challenges without judgment or shame and instead look for joyful ways to navigate them?
I delved into the research on aging, and here are 8 insights I’ve found that can help us think about joyful ways to feel well as we grow older.
1. Seek out awe
In a study of older adults, researchers found that taking an “awe walk,” a walk specifically focused on attending to vast or inspiring things in the environment, increased joy and prosocial emotions (feelings like generosity and kindness) more than simply taking a stroll in nature. Interestingly, they also found that “smile intensity,” a measure of how much the participants smiled, increased over the eight-week duration of the study. These walks were only 15 minutes long, once a week, and are low impact, so this is an easy way to create more joy in daily life as we age.
Practiced joyspotters well know the power of attending to joyful stimuli in the environment to boost mood. This study suggests that tuning our attention specifically to things that invoke wonder and awe can have measurable benefits, especially for older adults.
2. Get a culture fix
A 1996 study of more than 12,000 people Sweden found that attending cultural events correlated with increased survival, while people who rarely attended cultural events had a higher risk of mortality. Since then, a raft of studies (a good summary of them here) has affirmed that people who participate in social activities such as attending church, going to the movies, playing cards or bingo, or going to restaurants or sporting events is linked with decreased mortality among older adults.
One reason may be that these activities increase social connection, deepen relationships, and reinforce feelings of belonging, which are positively associated with well-being. Cultural activities also help keep the mind sharp. While the pandemic has made this one challenging, as things start to open up again, getting a culture fix can be an easy way to age joyfully.
Enriching your environment with color, art, plants and other sensorially stimulating elements may be a worthwhile investment not just for protecting your mind as you age, but also your joy.
3. Stimulate your senses
One of the most talked-about parts of my TED Talk is when I describe my experience spending a night at the wildly colorful Reversible Destiny Lofts, an apartment building designed by the artist Arakawa and the poet Madeline Gins, who believed it could reverse aging.
The idea that an apartment could reverse aging sounds farfetched, but it becomes more grounded when we look at the theory behind it. Arakawa and Gins believed that just as our muscles atrophy if we don’t exercise them, our cognitive capacity diminishes if we don’t stimulate our senses.
They looked at our beige, dull interiors and imagined that these spaces would make our minds wither. And as it turns out, some early research in animals (see also) suggests there might be something to this. When mice are placed in “enriched environments” with lots of sensorial stimuli and opportunities for physical movement, it mitigates neurological changes associated with Alzheimer’s and dementia. While there is some evidence to suggest that this might apply to humans as well, the mechanisms behind this phenomenon are not yet well understood.
That said, we do know that the acuity of our senses declines with age. The lenses of our eyes thicken and tinge more yellow, allowing less light into the eye. Our sense of smell, taste and hearing also become less sharp. So, while you don’t have to recreate Arakawa and Gins’s quirky apartments, enriching your environment with color, art, plants and other sensorially stimulating elements may be a worthwhile investment not just for protecting your mind as you age, but also your joy.
4. Buy yourself flowers
As if you needed an excuse for this one, but just in case, here you go. A study of older adults found that memory and mood improved when people were given a gift of flowers, which wasn’t the case when they were given another kind of gift.
Why would flowers have this effect? One reason may link to research on the attention restoration effect, which shows that the passive stimulation we find in looking at greenery helps to restore our ability to concentrate. Perhaps improved attention also results in improved memory. Another possibility, which is pure speculation at this point, relates to the evolutionary rationale for our interest in flowers.
Because flowers eventually become fruit, it would have made sense for our ancestors to take an interest in them and remember their location. Monitoring the locations of flowers would allow them to save time and energy when it came to finding fruiting plants later, and potentially reach the fruit before other hungry animals. I have to stress that there’s no evidence I’m aware of to support this explanation, but it’s an intriguing possibility.
Taking it a step further, research has also shown that gardening can have mental and physical health benefits for older adults. So whether you buy your flowers or grow them, know that you’re taking a joyful step toward greater well-being in later life.
There’s something joyful about a mini time warp — maybe it’s revisiting a vacation spot you once loved or maybe it’s a getaway with friends where you banish talk of present-day concerns.
5. Try a time warp
In 1981, Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer ran an experiment with a group of men in their 70s that has come to be known as “the counterclockwise study.” For five days, they lived inside a monastery that had been designed to look just like it was 1959. There were vintage radios and black-and-white TVs instead of cassette players and VHS. The books that lined the shelves were ones that were popular at the time. The magazines, TV shows, clothes and music were all throwbacks to that exact period.
But these men weren’t just living in a time warp. They also had to participate. They were treated like they were in their 50s, rather than their 70s. They had to carry their own bags. They discussed the news and sports of 22 years earlier in the present tense. And to preserve the illusion, there were no mirrors and no photos, except of their younger selves.
At the end of five days, the men stood taller, had greater manual dexterity, and even better vision. Independent judges said they looked younger. A touch football game broke out among the group (some of whom had previously walked with a cane) as they waited for the bus home.
Langer was hesitant to publish her findings, concerned that the unusual method and small sample size might be hard for the academic community to accept. But in 2010, a BBC show recreated the experiment with aging celebrities to similar effect. Langer’s subsequent research has led her to conclude that we can prime our minds to feel younger, which in turn can make our bodies follow suit.
While it might be difficult to recreate Langer’s study in our own lives, I think there’s something joyful about a mini time warp. Maybe it’s revisiting a vacation spot you once loved, and steeping yourself in memories from an earlier time. Maybe it’s a getaway with friends where you banish all talk of present-day concerns. Maybe it’s finding a book or a stack of old magazines from back then and reading them while listening to throwback tunes.
It’s also worth noting that a control group from the counterclockwise study who simply reminisced about their youth, without using the present tense, did not experience the same dramatic results — so these “mini time warps” may be more for fun than for tangible benefit. But even if you don’t turn back the clock, checking back in with your younger self can be a way to rediscover parts of yourself that you may have lost touch with and bring them with you as you age.
6. Maximize mobility
Exercise is often touted as a way to stay healthy and vibrant at any age, but one finding that makes it particularly relevant as we get older is that movement has been shown in studies to increase the size of the hippocampus, a part of the brain that plays a vital role in learning and memory. This is important because the hippocampus shrinks as we age, which can lead to memory deficits and increased risk of dementia. In one study of older adults, exercise increased hippocampus size by 2 percent, which is equivalent to reversing one to two years of age-related decline.
In addition to its cognitive effects, movement itself can be a source of joy. The ability to swim, hike, dance and play can be conduits to joy well into our older years. When I struggle to get motivated to exercise, I often think about my future self and how investing in my mobility now can help preserve range of motion and minimize repetitive stress injuries later. Simply put: you have one body, and it has to last your whole life. The more you do now to care for it, the more freedom you’ll have to do the things you love late in life.
As we age, we have a choice: We can either cling to the world as we shaped it and refuse to engage in the new world that kids are creating, or we can adapt to their world and remain curious, active participants.
7. Refeather your nest
Once you start looking at negative tropes around aging, you start seeing more and more of them. Take the phrase “empty nest,” which carries strong connotations of loss and deprivation. Though I’m at the stage where my nest suddenly just became quite full, I love the idea of reframing the “empty nest” into something more joyful.
One of my readers, Lee-Anne Ragan, offers up as a joyful process in the wake of children going off to start their own independent lives. She points out that the idea of an empty nest suggests that there’s nothing left, while refeathering takes a more ecological lens, imagining a kind of regeneration that happens as the home, and the family, transforms into something new. A refeathered nest is a place of possibility, creativity and delight.
8. Stay up on tech
While technology is often blamed for feelings of isolation, some studies show that for older adults, being technologically facile can offer a boost to well-being. One reason is that internet use may serve a predictor of social connection more broadly, and social connection is one of the most important contributors toward mental health and well-being throughout life, but especially in old age.
I’ve often been tempted, when a radically new app or device comes out, to say “That’s for the kids,” and ignore it. With free time so scarce, exploring new tech feels less appealing than digging into one of the books piled up on my nightstand. And anyway, unplugging is supposed to be good for us, right? But technology shapes the world we live in, and those technologies that seem new and fringy in the moment often end up in the mainstream, influencing the ways we communicate, work and access even basic services.
I remember trying to teach my grandmother how to use email. She was someone who never wanted to bother anyone, and I thought that email’s asynchronous communication would be good for her. Instead of calling, she could just send a note and know that she wasn’t interrupting anyone. She tried, but she struggled to learn it. She had stopped caring about technology long before that, and the leap to figure out how to use a computer was too great. Small choices not to engage with a new technology don’t matter much in the moment, but once you get a few steps down the road to disconnection, it can feel intimidating to try to plug back in.
Staying engaged with new technologies doesn’t have to be a burden. It might simply mean saying yes when a niece or nephew invites you play Minecraft or opening a TikTok account just to check it out. You don’t have to master every new app or tool, but being comfortable with new developments can help you ensure you don’t end up feeling helpless or blindsided when the tech you rely on every day changes.
I think a lot about something psychologist Alison Gopnik said when I interviewed her for the Joy Makeover a couple of years ago. She said that each new generation breaks paradigms and overturns old ways of doing things as a matter of course. This isn’t gratuitous — it’s how we move forward as a society.
Each generation of kids will remake the world, and from this we’ll gain all kinds of new discoveries. So as we age, we have a choice: we can either cling to the world as we shaped it and refuse to engage in the new world our kids’ and grandkids’ generations are creating, or we can adapt to their world and remain curious, active participants in it.
This to me is at the heart of aging joyfully. Our goal shouldn’t be to cling to youth as we get older, but to keep our joy alive by tending our inner child throughout our days while also nurturing our connection to the changing world. In doing so, we balance wisdom with wonder, confidence with curiosity and depth with delight.
Bowen RL, Atwood CS (2004). “Living and dying for sex. A theory of aging based on the modulation of cell cycle signaling by reproductive hormones”. Gerontology. 50 (5): 265–90. doi:10.1159/000079125. PMID15331856. S2CID18109386.
Truscott RJ (February 2009). “Presbyopia. Emerging from a blur towards an understanding of the molecular basis for this most common eye condition”. Experimental Eye Research. 88 (2): 241–7. doi:10.1016/j.exer.2008.07.003. PMID18675268.