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The Key To a Happy Life as You Get Older

I’m 64 and have an actuarial lifespan of another 19 years. I’ve been studying how to make the best of them. When I look around at my male peers, they aren’t doing so well. Here’s a sample: A couple of friends struggle with alcohol addiction. This has cost them their ability to go deep with thei…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

I’m 64 and have an actuarial lifespan of another 19 years. I’ve been studying how to make the best of them. When I look around at my male peers, they aren’t doing so well. Here’s a sample:

A couple of friends struggle with alcohol addiction. This has cost them their ability to go deep with their friends. Vulnerability is a struggle.

One friend did not take care of his health and has a terminal cancer. Another friend just had a near-death experience because of cancer.

One friend is retiring with extraordinary wealth, but has struggled to make friends.

Multiple other friends have been hurt by life’s hard knocks and have withdrawn from relationships.

What we need

To age well and stay happy, we need friends! A Harvard study over 80 years shows that this is the key to not just emotional health, but spills over into physical health as well:

“The surprising finding is that our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships has a powerful influence on our health…Close relationships, more than money or fame, are what keep people happy throughout their lives, the study revealed. Those ties protect people from life’s discontents, help to delay mental and physical decline, and are better predictors of long and happy lives.

Taking care of your body is important, but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care too.”

The problem is that we (men especially) don’t have great models to follow. According to a Barna study, one in five men describes themselves as lonely. The average man has just two to five close friends. But as they get older, this number declines.

One study showed that older men find the number of interactions with close friends declining from 14 to 5. In other words, 25 days out of the average month, the average older man doesn’t talk to a close friend.


Why does this happen? Of course, as we age, we lose friends to poor health and eventual death. But this problem is compounded by three factors:

1. We lack skills. We live in a transactional world and don’t know how to do the things that good friends do. We don’t know how to be vulnerable. We don’t know how to forgive.

2. We lack purpose. Jobs, children and social commitments disappear as we get older. The Japanese have a concept called ikigai that has to do with purpose. Those who apply it tend to live longer.

3. Distance. We don’t live in proximity to those who could be friends. We have physical and emotional fences around our homes and lives. Social media has broadened our friendships, but made them an inch deep.

Biblical perspective

So what are we to do? Here’s a good place to start: The Bible says, “A man with many friends can still be ruined, but a true friend sticks closer than a brother.” Prov. 18:24

How do we do this? The poet David Whyte says that friendship that endures is marked by two characteristics: presence and forgiveness. Presence is showing up in a person’s life over time. It’s especially important during times of testing.

Forgiveness is essential because we are flawed humans. We hurt each other and withdraw as a way of protecting ourselves.

I personally am working on both broadening my network of friends and going deeper. I do this by showing up. Today I’m going to reach out to a couple of friends who I haven’t talked to in years. And I have a list of old friends that I pray for. Some I may need to seek forgiveness from.

It’s not easy. I’d rather not have to apologize for something I did. I’d rather just let bygones be bygones. But I’m determined to do the hard work necessary to age well. How about you?

Comments (18)

  • So timely! Kenneth and I were just evaluating how we have or haven’t prioritized relationships. Thank you for this, Seth!

  • Thank you Seth for your thoughts on aging well. I just turned 71 last Saturday and I am actually enjoying this stage of life and ministry. I enjoy my relationships with those my age and younger ministers seek me out as a spiritual father. It makes life very meaningful.

  • If we could convince more men to grab this idea earlier in life, I think we could change the world. Imagine the effect of healthy men (emotionally, spiritually, physically) teaching others how to walk in this path of redemptive healing! This is discipleship, plain and simple—one healthy person passing it along to another. It’s not flashy or fancy. It’s slow and difficult (presence and forgiveness almost always are) but it’s good.

    Thanks for leading the charge, Seth.

    • Thanks Stacy – it’s been encouraging to see you press into this space. Lord knows we need encouragement!

  • For me:
    1. Develop friendships with men in addition to work relationships PRIOR to retiring. Local churches can help us in this. Other activities and hobbies.
    2. Serve. Serve. Serve. There are ALWAYS opportunities. Take Jesus literally: It IS more blessed to give than receive.
    3. Learn afresh. When my fife and I step out of our current employment, we anticipate about studying Spanish together to learn a new language.
    4. Linger and Listen. No need to ‘rush’ through daily time with the Lord. Re-order your pattern to increase time in His Presence and calling on His Name.
    5. Don’t think in terms of “retirement” but “reassignment”.
    God willing, for some, the season of stepping back from paid employment can be some of the most fruitful times in their lives.

    • Such good advice from someone who has lived it. I look to your example, Brian, and seek to emulate it!

  • Brian, You are exactly right. We cannot think in terms of simply retirement but reassignment. The truck is still moving down the road we just retread the tires! LoL

  • I’m very thankful for our long and deep friendship.

    For some people, making friends is easy and natural; for others, it’s something that needs to be worked on. In either case, this is one of the few areas that pays dividends both immediately and long term.

  • Jesus had twelve, but seemed to favor three and especially one…hmmm
    I only have about two or three close friends… I typically hang out with men about 25 years younger than me.. three of us just completed the “100 mile wilderness hike” on the AT in Maine.. we had a blast, God was there.. it was difficult but great..!! they were both 25 years younger than me.. It’s a special feeling to have younger men look to you for wisdom, theological clarity, and friendship.. thanks for the blog Seth..!!

  • Absolutely true, when it comes to forgiving, if God can forgive, are we in any better than he that created us?

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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