Everyone is as old as he thinks himself to be. Mere years do not constitute age in the true and deeper sense. A generation or two ago people thought themselves old at fifty and aged at sixty. A poet expressed the prevalent feeling:
Our grandmothers put on caps and other distinctive marks of old age at a period when the modern woman "dresses young" and makes herself believe that she is still quite youthful. In this respect, at least, there has been a great improvement in the common thought. It is increasingly felt that old age is more a matter of feeling than of dates.
Even physical scientists are beginning to teach that the recuperation and the waste of the human organism may be so balanced and regulated that the joints need not grow stiff, the face wrinkled, and the strength enfeebled. And all this through a scientific hygienic habit.
But so long as people think themselves to be bodies, subject to decay and with but a limited or definitely fixed amount of vitality, instead of rulers and renewers of these bodies, no very marked progress will be made.
While our forefathers were less artificial in their living, and in many respects nearer to nature, they generally made a drudgery of their occupation, and their lives included little variety. Existence was prosaic, and relaxation and the poetic and aesthetic element lacking.
Their philosophy of life was hard and stern, and their theology still more so. Everything considered, it is no wonder that they felt old when their mental and physical power should have been in its prime. Samuel Johnson voiced their thought:
But today there is a strong current in the other direction. It is that work is a kind of necessary evil, and that the less hours devoted to it—and even the less accomplished—the better. That use and discipline of the powers of mind and body for which they are intended, and which only can keep them in a developed and harmonious condition, is disparaged and avoided.
Sports, entertainments, and recreations are pursued to the extreme, and life becomes dull unless exercised out of all due proportion.
Material invention, modern luxury, and a departure from natural simplicity, bring a great fruitage of inharmonious lives.
The vitality and normal development of the rich is choked and congested by an indigestible mass of supposed good things, which are thereby rendered the reverse. The poor are envious and discontented because they are missing that very surfeit which in reality is a troublesome handicap.
Both are pervaded with the idea that the highest good to be found is within the realm of seen things, and the chase for them is responsible for the general inharmony and disappointment which tend to shorten life and make it "not worth the living".
It is not work, in itself, which hastens decrepitude, but the worry and hurry about it. The quality of bitterness and drudgery which we ignorantly mix into honest toil must be left out, and the joy of accomplishment inserted as a lubricant and cushion.
But nothing less than the New Thought philosophy will command the situation. There are palliatives and aids, and prominent among them is hygiene. This should not be too slavish on the one hand, nor too neglectful on the other; but creative thought stands above and behind as a prime mover.
As the subconscious mind acts automatically upon the human organism, it should receive from its conscious counterpart a constant stream of youthful suggestion. It is really cultivated feeling, which is deeper than thought in the usual sense, that is needed.
The imagination should have full play, and create a youthful condition, at first, if necessary, by the mere affirmation that you have it. It is the office of the imaging faculty really to make things. It forms an image, and that image presses for actuality and material expression. The more persistently it is held, the stronger this pressure.
Says Emerson, in substance: "If you desire a virtue that is not already yours, assume it." If the ideal be lawful and proper, play its character until you feel and fit it. If done in earnest, it will not long be delayed.
You should love your friend and even your enemy. Tell him you do, even if the present measure of your affection be hardly discernible. Is not this hypocrisy? No! You want to do so and this is the legitimate means to grow to your ideal.
Physical sensation may be displaced and overruled gradually. Receive its testimony lightly. If your joints are stiff, praise their nimbleness, and it will be increased. If your mind is sluggish, claim the opposite.
Owing to a dull materialism, the world has been a stranger to the spiritually scientific and psychological laws of growth.
Every faculty and organ of your mind and body has a kind of hidden subordinate personality. Praise and think well of it and it will serve you the better.
"I have a very weak stomach!" Yes; and if you keep saying so it will fill your specification and grow weaker.
Every good and lawful thing that we can imagine is waiting, ideally, for us to appropriate it. In proportion as creative thought puts in its claim, a corresponding response is assured.
"Ask and it shall be given you." Demand is a sure prophecy of supply, and the two never will rest easy until they find satisfaction in each other.
If you want youthful feelings during advancing years, step into them, and in due time they will be an easy fit.