Here's news that should be good for all of us humans. As the years go by, and we work at what we do, we grow older and wiser.
Barbara Strauch has written a fascinating and readable book about how our minds age, and how we get better as we get older, a lot older. If you are in your fifties and feel that you know far more about what you are doing now, than you did twenty or even ten years ago, science bears you out. According to The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain, we get smarter meaning that our judgment improves, our ability to see the big picture improves, our ability to read people improves. We become better managers, better parents, better leaders--even better air traffic controllers! We are more emotionally stable and often more creative.
What's interesting about this book is that its not a philosophical nor a political argument. It's a book based on scientific research. Strauch uses both people studies and research from neuroscientists, psychologists etc. to explain that our brains grow far more than we ever realized, into our 60s. While we lose one kind of brain cell, we increase others. And, studies of people in their 70s today indicate that people are smarter and more able to do things like solve puzzles than the people of the same age 15 years ago.
But this is not a book about how humanity is getting smarter, it's a book that looks into the human brain and how evolution has designed a middle-aged brain to be, in many ways, more able than the twenty-five year old version. Yes that twenty-five year old can keep from hitting the squirrel in the road more easily but life is more than reflexes. According to Strauch, humans are programmed to adjust to day to day annoyances, such as losing keys and forgetting names--just as we are programmed to grow wiser.
Strauch's clear explanations of the strengths of experienced people in their 50s (men and women continue to improve mentally through their 50s and into their 60s) combined with research debunking such myths as the "midlife crisis," and the "empty nest," make it clear that people who are older are often better equipped to handle the high stress of business today than their younger colleagues. It also means that those younger colleagues have a longer, and more productive future ahead than they may have expected.
The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain is good news for everyone, including those in their twenties and thirties, who after all will be fifty one day. Its good news for the 50 year old who loses her keys and wonders if she's declining, and for the 35 year old who wonders if she will ever feel truly "grown-up." The answer from Strauch is yes. People feel better as they get older. They feel more in control and they feel grown-up and handle the stress of life. Not only is their judgment better, they actually feel more cheerful, and focus more on the positive than they did while young. This is not really such a surprise. When you first saw Sully, the airline pilot who performed the "Miracle on the Hudson, " were you really surprised to see his white hair?
Lastly Strauch talks about the concept of wisdom, a word that has been considered "squishy," but which is gaining more currency with scientists who study the brain chemistry of the middle-aged as well as the behavioral studies of groups of people over long periods of time (some over forty years.)
Most people want to believe that as they live, they learn. This book holds the evidence that if you work at something for thirty years, you get to know more than a lot of facts, you learn to put those facts together. That's good news for all of us.