Boomer Power. It is all over the news. The recent PEW Report publicized our massive size; 78 million in the U.S. alone will be 65 this year and 10,000 more reaching that milestone each day for the next 19 years. According to The Wall Street Journal our numbers are enough to propel a shift in marketing campaigns of major companies around the world. "Boomers" they say, "drove the growth of the hula hoops, bell bottoms," and "will continue to be an influential market as it ages." We account for about half of all U.S. consumer spending, reports SymphonyIRI, a research firm that predicts trends. Boomers, they say, will likely splurge close to $50 billion on themselves in the next 10 years, rather than pass their money on to future generations. Analysts at Standards & Poor write, "No other force is likely to shape the future of national economic health, public finances and policy making as the irreversible rate at which the world's population is aging."
Boomer Power is ablooming. What's next? The responsibility that comes with all that influence and clout.
Recent articles on The Huffington Post featured Boomer Power too. "Feeling Invisible? Readers Weigh In and Speak Out," sent a rally cry to the 50 and over crowd; "Ignore us at your own risk. We will buy what we want to buy, and it may very well be something other than what you're selling." Another blogger wrote, "Baby Boomers Can Find Strength in Numbers," saying, "We can use the major asset we have as a group -- the wisdom of age -- and turn it into collective wisdom. We can use our numbers and apply the wisdom of age to change the age we live in." Clearly, we Boomers are banding together, sensing our influence, and asserting our power. Isn't it time to shift from defending, explaining and congratulating ourselves, to setting an example for the generations that follow?
Understandably, we've been more than just a little self-preoccupied with figuring this aging thing out -- how to remain vital and visible in a youth obsessed culture. It's been challenging even for those of us with good health, stable jobs and loving families, a challenge I wrote about in another piece posted here titled "Aging in a World of Narcissism." It seems we've been so focused on ourselves, we've failed to notice that the guys and gals we see in our rearview mirrors could use a bit of guidance. These 30 and 40 year olds are seeking role models for how to let go, move on and land on their feet. Matthew Perry, one of the stars of "Friends," now on a new show, "Mr. Sunshine," recently told The New York Times, "I used to spend a lot of time just thinking about myself, thinking that the party started when I showed up," the 41 year old actor said. "I'm far from that man, now." Very public about his emotional struggles since the end of "Friends," Perry, says former TV exec, Jamie Tarses, has "the perspective of someone who has finally started the journey to figuring things out, how to live a more enlightened life."
Perry's journey reminds me of other men and women in his generation who respond to articles I write here about the psychology of aging ("When It Comes to Aging Real is Really In," "Cosmetic Drugs Gone Too Far" and "Too Young to Look Old"). This younger group thinks a lot about what midlife will be like for them, concerned that ageism will impact their work and relationships too. Their responses are at times empathic, "We worry about looking older and becoming invisible even at our age," wrote one. But many are more critical, even defiant about these concerns. "Come on" one wrote, "get over yourselves, stop obsessing about gray hairs, sags, bags, wrinkles." Another commented, "You left us a world with too little money and too many people. Stop being so narcissistic!" Easy for them to say, still a decade or two away from the big 50, but maybe they have a point.
In our defense, this aging thing has taken many Boomers by surprise. We are just now beginning to figure out our own age-related enlightenment, so involved were we in protesting the Vietnam War, fighting for Civil Rights and in the Feminist Revolution. And, of course, in own partying -- the kind that brought us Dylan, Woodstock, drugs and peace rallies. As we entered our 40s and slid into our 50s, we built our lives around never missing a beat, determined to keep "Our bodies, Ourselves" strong and youthful, planning to be forever young. Trainers, treadmills, Pilates, facials, dermatologists, ophthalmologists and even psychotherapists became as much a part of our life's routine as raising children and going to work.
So this is my issue; Is there anything we now do routinely -- outside of working, caring for our families, looking after our health and our appearance -- to make our world a better place? A corny question, I know, that risks more than a few rolling eyes as it is read and reminds me of the equally corny lyrics once sung by Michael Jackson, (who, by the way, would now be in his fifties!), "If you care enough for the living, make a better place for you and for me." But if you are like me, one of the 1.5 billion Boomers who may be living on this earth by 2050, (a U.N estimate), perhaps it's a question worth pondering.
What if those of us who want to leave our narcissism behind, let our actions speak? How about we take the responsibility that comes by nature of our massive numbers and add to our "self-care" regimens, one activity, once a week -- yes, I mean scheduling it into our appointment books -- that doesn't just focus on ourselves? Something that is not about helping us look and feel great, but that routinely serves to create meaning. It can be about giving back in ways we already do -- the donations or service we offer to charities, causes and campaigns -- but it also can be about small acts of daily kindness and caring. Real Boomer power is about becoming worthy role models for the next generation.
This week on "CBS Sunday Morning," Herb Alpert, the Grammy Award winning trumpeter, talked about keeping music alive through his support for the Harlem School of the Arts. "I know it sounds a little corny. I get it. I dig it," he said about his philanthropic work. He is doing his share, at age 75, showing Boomers how to age with grace and generosity. Julianne Moore told InStyle magazine this week, "One thing a 50th birthday does is say: All right, time is marching. You have these things you're happy with and proud of. But if there's something you haven't done that you've been waiting to do, then by all means, don't want any longer. Do it!" On "Morning Joe" she described what "doing it" meant to her -- working with Save the Children. In March, Moore will grace the cover of InStyle magazine, looking vibrant and beautiful, but her actions speak for themselves.
How will my actions today reflect Boomer responsibility? Well, my daughter's friend needs help shooting her "no budget" documentary called, "The Longevity of Love." I offered to be her production assistant, helping her film my in-laws, aged 98 and 93, while they tell the story behind their 72 years of marriage. I may not fit in time to work out, but somehow I think this is going to make me feel far better at the end of the day.
Tell us the one thing you would do to show the next generation what aging and wisdom is really about? Just imagine, if generations joined together, one kind act, one day at a time, how powerful we could be to "make a better place" for us all.
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Vivian Diller, Ph.D. is a psychologist in private practice in New York City. She has written articles on beauty, aging, media, models and dancers. She serves as a consultant to companies promoting health, beauty and cosmetic products. "Face It: What Women Really Feel As Their Looks Change" (2010), written with Jill Muir-Sukenick, Ph.D. and edited by Michele Willens, is a psychological guide to help women deal with the emotions brought on by their changing appearances. For more information, please visit www.VivianDiller.com