Norman Lear, the legendary producer who turned 101 years old in July, is a living testament to the power of purposeful work. At an early celebration for him at the Life Itself conference, Lear shared his secrets to a long and fulfilling life: lox and bagels, family love, laughter, and a life dedicated to exhilarating work.
“You see, I like waking up in the morning with something on my mind that I can work on… to some conclusion,” Lear explained.
Lear has had a remarkable career spanning over a century. From creating iconic characters like Archie Bunker in “All in the Family” to producing cult blockbusters like “The Princess Bride” and “Fried Green Tomatoes,” Lear has never stopped working. Even in his 90s, he co-produced and hosted Emmy-winning episodes of “Live in Front of a Studio Audience.”
What sets Lear apart is not just his longevity, but his attitude towards stress. Despite the challenges he faced during his 1970s comedy era, Lear described it as a time of “joyful stress.” He believes that accepting stress as a natural part of life can lead to resilience and a sense of fulfillment.
But does this mean that everyone should work longer? According to Beth Truesdale, a sociologist and research scholar, it’s not that simple. While research suggests that working longer can have health benefits, it’s important to consider the nuances.
“For some fortunate individuals who have control over their working environment and can make choices to take care of their families, job stress can be challenging but satisfying,” Truesdale said. “However, many people, especially those without a college diploma, face extreme job stress due to a lack of control.”
Truesdale emphasizes that Lear is part of a “tiny, tiny minority” who have found fulfilling jobs that support them financially and physiologically as they age. Many others are forced to retire early due to physical demands, caregiving responsibilities, age discrimination, or financial constraints.
Retirement can be a double-edged sword. While some people find fulfillment in pursuing hobbies, spending time with loved ones, and doing meaningful volunteer work, others may experience cognitive decline and loneliness. Harvard Medical School neurologist Rudy Tanzi suggests that making brain-healthy choices, such as getting enough sleep, managing stress, exercising, and eating well, is crucial in deciding between working and retiring.
Tanzi explains that sleep, stress management, positive social interactions, exercise, and learning new things can protect against cognitive impairment and promote healthy aging. Building synaptic reserves through lifelong learning and staying mentally active can be just as important as financial reserves.
Truesdale agrees that there are many fulfilling activities beyond work that can contribute to healthy aging, such as spending quality time with loved ones, pursuing hobbies, and engaging in meaningful volunteer work. The key is to stay active, both physically and mentally, and find a sense of meaning and satisfaction in daily life.
So, can our jobs help us live longer lives? Norman Lear’s story certainly suggests that purposeful work can contribute to a fulfilling and resilient life. However, it’s essential to consider individual circumstances and prioritize overall well-being. Whether it’s through work or other activities, finding joy, purpose, and connection is the key to a long and fulfilling life.