‘Older and Wiser’ – A review

Older and Wiser’ is a book by Dag Sebastian Ahlander aimed at baby boomers who are planning their retirement. Find out how this lighthearted and entertaining read can help us boomers “create an inner peace and make us wiser.”

Like all baby boomers, I’m moving into a new phase of life these days. Although I’m among the youngest of my generation, I’m now semi-retired and my parents have passed away along with all of my uncles and aunts.

I mentioned to my brother that it was strange to think we’re now the older generation. He replied, “Well, that’s the way it is, no matter how it feels.”

Wisdom is supposed to come with age. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The years teach much that the days never know.” On the other hand, the satrirical columnist H.L. Mencken wrote, “The more I grow old, the more I distrust the familiar doctrine that age brings wisdom.”

There’s No Fool Like an Old Fool

He’s probably right. There’s no fool like an old fool!

So, there seems to be an art to becoming older and wiser. As with most things in life, there are no guarantees.

That seems to be the inspiration behind Swedish author Dag Sebastian Ahlander’s book Older and Wiser, now available in English translation. It’s a follow-up to his earlier book entitled Older and Happier.

Ahlander Is a Retried Ambassador and Children’s Author

Ahlander is a retired ambassador. He was also a children’s author, writing a number of books outlining the history of Sweden for a younger audience.

Upon his retirement, he turned his attention to writing for his own generation. He seems to be on a mission to “get older men to to realise that they have many exciting years and interesting projects ahead of them.”

Even so, these aren’t heavy, philosophical books. They’re not even typical of the self-help genre. They’re much more lighthearted and not overly systematic in sharing their insights.

Goes Beyond Happiness, Tries to Help Us Find Wisdom

In his latest volume, Ahlander goes beyond encouraging old men like me to be happy and tries to help us to find wisdom. As he writes, “Wisdom involves a process of liberation from that which is insignificant, and a concentration on that which is significant. It’s about placing your life within a larger story, which gives meaning and satisfaction.”

Ahlander’s philosophy resonates with me now that I’ve transitioned away from the conventional workforce and into freelance and elective kinds of work. He writes, “Many of us can imagine assignments and volunteer projects – but on our terms, and certainly not full time. Becoming King of the Hill doesn’t matter anymore.”

The author sees retirement as a shift from a public life to a more quiet phase in our journey. In the past, when lives were shorter and there was no mandatory retirement, people had very little privacy right up until the day they died.

Private Lives “that We Now Fill With Happiness and Wisdom”

According to Ahlander, we got the chance to become older and wiser when that changed. “A greater distance grew between our public selves and our private deaths,” he writes. “It is this part that we now fill with happiness and meaning. Here, the old expression, ‘I’ve retired to a private life,’ fits like a glove.”

The bulk of the book consists of a series of short proverb-like “thoughts for the continuing journey.” They’re loosely grouped into broad themes like “Thank Goodness for Forgetfulness,” and “All Retirees Worry About Money.”

Rather than imposing his ideas or organizing them into an arbitrary structure, Ahlander tends to share insights gleaned from brief anecdotes from his own life. Here’s an example.

Insights Gleaned from Brief Anecodotes from His Own LIfe

“Mom gave me a list of seven errands she wanted me to take care of in dfferent parts of the city. ‘But Mom, I’m old. I don’t have the energy for all of this!’ I answered despairingly.

“She looked at me with disbelief: her old son. To our parents, we always remain children.” I remember a similar conversation with my 93-year-old mother when I told her I’d decided to retire from my job and collect my pension.

It made her feel awfully old. The moral of these stories, according to Ahlander, is “So at last, we must die – for our children’s sake.”

‘So at Last We Must Die – For Our Children’s Sake’

My mother often worried needlessly about money as she grew older. I’ve often thought that her attitude defeated the purpose of saving for our old age.

What’s the point of being well off if you still feel poor? Yet, as a pensioner in inflationary times, I sometimes catch myself having the same qualms. The fact the people live longer than ever before doesn’t help with this kind of anxiety.

Older but Wiser advises us that, “It’s important to look at money from a greater perspective and not allow financial matters to bully us.” Ahlander tells us that one key to avoiding that bullying is, “Pay off your remaining debts. As a senior, it’s most pressing to bring down current expenses so they are as low as possible.”

‘Pay Off Your Remaining Debts’

Regrettably, there’s no discussing old age without discussing death. Ahlander shares a range of insights on this topic.

For example, he quotes Confucius saying, “How can one understand death before he understands life?” Another poignant insight he shares is “When an old person dies, a whole library burns up.”

Just about every day, something crosses my mind that makes me regret not asking my parents more questions about their lives. “Where did that song come from?”, “How am I related to someone?” and so on.

‘The Old Die and Children Continue to Be Born.’

Despite those considerations, life goes on. Ahlander writers, “The old die, and children continue to be born. As it should be.”

There is a thread of meaning winding its way through Ahlander’s personal yarns. However, some readers may find that thread hard to follow.

If you’re looking for a list of action items or a structured program for adjusting to retirement, this probably isn’t the book for you. On the other hand, if you’re content to absorb the nuggets of wisdom as the come, this is a lighthearted and entertaining read.

This Book Would Make a Great ‘Daily Read’

I get the impression this book would make a great “daily read.” Readers might prefer to peruse one of the 109 thoughts every day rather than trying to aborb the book from cover to cover in one sitting.

However you tackle it, the book lives up to its subtitle, providing “inspiration and advice for retiring baby boomers. I’ll let the author have the last word.

“Most of us want to devote ourselves to new areas of interest that give us deeper insights and greater perspectives, which, in turn, create an inner peace and make us wiser.”

We always have more to learn if we dare to know.
Older and Wiser: Inspiration and Advice for Retiring Baby Boomers
Older and Wiser: Publisher Site
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