ON YOUTH AND OLD AGE & meaning of life
It’s very common to associate youth with happy days, and old age with more difficult ones, or with the misfortune that surrounds our existence.
It’s part of the ancient tradition – literary, philosophical and also popular. «I should describe old age as a kind of incurable disease»; «An old man in his rudiments is a disgraceful object», said Seneca almost two thousand years ago, expressing the current opinion. Thence the advice of one of his (almost) contemporaries: «Enjoy yourself while in the spring of life» (Ovid).
There are, notwithstanding, other opinions, or more nuanced ones, about the connection between happiness and age. How many young people experience the plenitude that Joseph Conrad remembers with nostalgia in his Youth: «I remember my youth and the feeling that will never come back any more – the feeling that I could last for ever, outlast the sea, the earth, and all men; the deceitful feeling that lures us on to joys, to perils, to love, to vain effort – to death; the triumphant conviction of strength, the heat of life in the handful of dust, the glow in the heart that with every year grows dim, grows cold, grows small, and expires – and expires, too soon, too soon – before life itself»?
Bernard Lovell, for instance, expressed another opinion: «Youth is vivid rather than happy, but memory always remembers the happy things».
Maturity and even old-age may be associated with happy existences, says Cicero in his essay about old age (De Senectude): «Old age, when honourable, has an authority that is worth more them all the pleasures of youth ».
Physical decrepitude may indeed be very damaging and the cause of unhappiness, but in Cicero's view our happiness depends a lot on our values and our wisdom, and the way we are able to conduct our life and control our thoughts and feelings. To him, happiness is very much a product of our philosophies of life. Old people situation may be far less dramatic than that described by Shakespeare in his comedy “As You Like It”:«That ends this strange eventful history, is second childishness and mere oblivion, sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything»).