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You're Only Young Twice
10 Do-Overs to Reawaken Your Spirit
by Ronda Beaman, EdD


Portion of Chapter One
Oh, To Be Young . . . More Than Once!

“When the self consciously accepts its role in the process of evolution, life acquires a transcendent meaning.” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, sociologist and author

I’ve had plenty of friends who believed they could build a better body through science. Under a knife, gasping through nonstop exercise, or faithfully following a spartan diet, all of us have been tempted to use some unnatural remedies to cure or stop the natural process of aging. As a professor, I have uncovered vast research confirming again and again that organisms (including you and me) age. Not exactly breakthrough material, but you’d be surprised how many of us still don’t believe it. As a personal trainer, I am reminded daily that the equipment we are issued at birth certainly needs to be fed properly and handled with care; but no matter how many sit-ups you do or miles you run, your body will change with time. And as a counselor who specializes in mid-life issues, I have discovered that personality questionnaires, cognitive therapies, and longevity strategies are only momentary diversions that often distract us from the truth of our mortality.

Consistently, people our age say they know there must be something more to life than running from our years. Something inside us needs expression; we feel a deepening urgency to find what’s waiting to be born in the second half of our lives. You feel it, too, don’t you?

The reason that diets and diatribes, potions and pills, and most of the myriad anti-aging methods have done nothing to stop the unnecessary ravages of aging is simply this: We are seeking the wrong solution and asking the wrong questions.

The real question isn’t how to stop the process of aging, but how to maximize the evolution of a human being.

“We turn not older with years, but newer every day.”
Emily Dickinson, nineteenth century poet

In 1981, noted anthropologist Ashley Montagu published a book called Growing Young. I found a used copy in a bookstore years ago. I was instantly intrigued by the title and fascinated by the concept. I was approaching my fortieth birthday at the time, and thought that growing young was certainly a better deal than the current choice I was being offered.

What I learned from Montagu’s book, and have continued to develop and research during the past decade, was a viable theory that could alter not just our aging, but our entire focus of living and surviving on this planet. The scientific theory called neoteny describes a physical and emotional evolutionary path based on the evidence of thousands of years of life development. Neoteny has been studied and substantiated by scientists from around the world and down the centuries. Neoteny, plain and simple, states that the human species—in body, spirit, feeling, and conduct—is constructed to grow and develop in ways that emphasize rather than minimize childhood traits. As Montagu said, “We were never intended to ‘grow up’ into the kind of adults most of us have become.”

Neoteny directs us, as individuals and as a species, to amplify our playfulness, creativity, joy, love, work, optimism, laughter and tears, song and dance, wonder, and curiosity; to engage these traits as lifelong habits; and to create a pro-aging life experience.

“The trick is growing up without growing old.”
Casey Stengel, legendary baseball player and manager

Simply put, neoteny is the process of growing young. As Montagu and others have pointed out, most people who could benefit from this theory are ignorant of it. Every parent who said, “Grow up”; every teacher who taught us to color within the lines; every college counselor who demanded we pick a major at age eighteen; every friend who asked us when we were going to settle down and have kids; every boss who placed us in a small cubicle with clocks and ten-minute breaks—and everyone who views someone over eighty as an old man or old woman whose life is over is violating the evolutionary principles of neoteny. And most important, every time you look at your life in the past tense, forget what you used to dream about, and surrender or minimize the person you are, you violate neoteny and victimize the potential of the life you have remaining. Until today, until this moment, until now. Reading this book can change the way you live your life and help you become, perhaps for the first time, the person nature envisioned: youthful all the days of your life.

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Excerpts (above and below) from You’re Only Young Twice: 10 Do-Overs to Reawaken Your Spirit by Ronda Beaman, EdD (VanderWyk & Burnham, 2006)
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[Below is part of the discussion on neotenous trait of HUMOR—includes use of the Young Twice Chronicle, and a Do-Over]


“I’ve always been aware of the child in me. Humor, especially the best of it, is very childish. It can be wise, philosophically valuable, or helpful to the world. But childishness is one of the marvelous things about being human.”
Steve Allen, comic and humorist

Humor is a special kind of joy. Humor often results from a peculiar and unexpected insight, a cleverness that takes us by surprise. Humor creates laughter, which is immediate, explosive, and brief. Laughter is often a sudden release of tension between the mind and the emotions, which may be artificially set up by telling a joke . . . .

What Is Humor?

Some of you will laugh at George Carlin, and some of you won’t. Some think Jerry Lewis’s brand of humor makes him a comic genius (okay, only if you are French), and some prefer Steve Martin. No neotenous trait has a simple definition. Each is unique to a person, place, and circumstance. So it is, too, with humor.

Experts say that several obvious differences among people affect what they find humorous. Research confirms what neoteny teaches: The most significant difference between what’s funny to one person and what’s funny to another seems to be age.

For instance, infants and children are constantly surprised by the things that go on around them, and they find these things funny. What’s funny to a toddler consists of short and simple concepts. The pre-teen and teenage years are, almost universally, awkward and tense. When you are dissatisfied with being older and would like to go back to your teens, just think of algebra and you’ll snap out of it! Lots of adolescents and teens laugh at jokes that focus on sex, food, and authority figures. Adolescence is a time when people use humor to protect themselves.

As we mature, both our physical bodies and our mental outlooks grow and change. There’s a new language to our humor by the time we have grown up. We have experienced more life, more tragedy, and more success. Along with the language, our sense of humor has also grown and changed; it’s now more subtle, more tolerant, and less judgmental.

“You don’t stop laughing because you grow old,
you grow old because you stop laughing.”

Michelle Pritchard, actress and dancer

Laughter is triggered by something we find humorous. There are three traditional theories about what people find humorous:

1. Humor is the experience of incongruity. Someone falls down in a situation where a fall is not expected. Or the incongruity may relate to concepts or thoughts, often illustrated by the punch line of a joke or a cartoon caption. When a joke begins, our minds and bodies anticipate what’s going to happen and how it’s going to end. That anticipation takes the form of logical thought intertwined with emotion, and is influenced by our past experience and our thought processes. When the joke goes in an unexpected direction, our thoughts and emotions suddenly switch gears. We now have new emotions, backing up a different line of thought. In other words, we experience two sets of incompatible thoughts and emotions simultaneously. We experience this incongruity between the different parts of the joke as humorous.

2. The superiority theory of humor relates to jokes that focus on someone else’s mistake, stupidity, or misfortune. We feel superior to this unfortunate person, and experience a certain detachment from the situation. So we are able to laugh about it.

3. Moviemakers have effectively used the relief theory of humor for a long time. In action films or thrillers where tension is high, directors use comic relief at just the right moments. A director builds the tension or suspense as much as possible, and then breaks it down slightly with a side comment or funny moment, relieving the audience of pent-up emotions.

Laughter is a way to cleanse our systems of built-up tension and incongruity. According to psychologist Dr. Lisa Rosenberg, “The act of producing humor, of making a joke, gives us a mental break and increases our objectivity in the face of overwhelming stress.”

“I don’t feel old. In fact, I don’t feel anything until noon.
Then it’s time for my nap.”

Bob Hope, comic, on turning 100

Steve Sultanoff, PhD, director of the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor, sums it up this way: “For me, humor is comprised of three components: wit, mirth, and laughter. Wit is the cognitive experience, mirth the emotional experience, and laughter the physiological experience. We often equate humor with laughter, but you do not need to laugh to experience humor.”

The most important definition of humor, however, is your definition. What do you find funny? If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then humor is in the funny bone of the receiver. And we all have a funny bone.

He (or She) Who Laughs Lasts

Appreciating humor can keep you mentally fit, adding enjoyment and fun to your life. Few activities are as mentally demanding and intellectually stimulating as humor. It’s no accident that in one section of the world’s most respected IQ test, exam takers are asked to arrange cartoon pictures to tell a story.

Humor and laughter may even help protect you against a heart attack. A recent study by cardiologists at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore found that people with heart disease were 40% less likely to laugh in a variety of situations than people of the same age without heart disease. “The ability to laugh—either naturally or as a learned behavior—may have important implications in societies such as the U.S. where heart disease remains the number one killer,” says Michael Miller, director of the Center for Preventive Cardiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center. “We know that exercising, not smoking, and eating foods low in saturated fat will reduce the risk of heart disease. Perhaps regular, hearty laughter should be added to the list.”

Watch a Funny Movie and Call Me in the Morning

Humor and laughter may have other benefits besides helping to fight heart disease. Doctors Lee Berk and Stanley Tan of Loma Linda University in California have conducted research showing that laughing lowers blood pressure, reduces stress hormones, and increases muscle flexion. Laughter, they say, boosts immune function by raising levels of infection-fighting cells. There’s more: Laughter also triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers, and produces a general sense of well-being. Laughter is an easy pill to swallow; it’s free and has only positive side effects.

“As I got older, I developed furniture disease.
My chest fell into my drawers.”

Loretta LaRoche, stress expert and humorist

Laughter can be a great workout for your diaphragm, facial, leg, and back muscles. It massages abdominal organs, tones intestinal functioning, and strengthens abdominal muscles. As if all that weren’t enough, it’s estimated that hearty laughter can burn calories equivalent to several minutes on the rowing machine or exercise bike. Think of all those runners hitting the pavement, expressions of grim resolve and miles of strain on their drawn faces. (If anyone made running look fun, then more of us would do it.) Laughing at one Marx Brothers movie could cut that running time in half.

And there’s even more. Further studies from Loma Linda University show that laughter stimulates both sides of the brain to enhance learning. Laughter keeps the brain alert and allows people to retain more information. An alert, active brain is a good piece of equipment at any age.

According to the Geriatric Psychiatry Alliance, depression affects 15% of older Americans, or about six million people. Suicide is always a risk for those who are depressed, and in fact, 25% of suicides occur with people who are more than fifty years old. Study after study confirms that laughing elevates moods. In fact, many psychologists now use humor as a therapeutic tool to battle depression.

Striving—and often it does take striving—to see the humor in life, and attempting to laugh at situations rather than bemoan them, will help your disposition and the disposition of those around you. Do family and friends leave your home with smiles on their faces? Is it a pleasant experience to visit you?

Many of us used to dread visits to our grandparents’ homes: old grumpy people with sour dispositions and too many things you couldn’t touch. Always being told to keep the noise down and weird mushy stuff to eat. It was torture. (If this sounds like what your grandchildren experience at your house, thank goodness you are reading this book.) But I was lucky. Besides my grandmother Meme, I also had Grandma Echo. She was a lively redhead who was witty with words and wrote poems to make us laugh. Like this one:

A Good Bit of Advice
There is nothing the matter with me,
I’m as healthy as I can be.
I have arthritis in both of my knees
And when I talk, I talk with a wheeze!
My pulse is weak, my blood is thin
But I’m awfully well for the shape I’m in!
My teeth are bad and they have to come out
And my diet I hate to think about.
I am overweight and I can’t get thin
But I’m awfully well for the shape I’m in!
The moral is, as this tale we unfold,
That for you and me who are growing old
It’s better to say “I’m fine” with a grin
Than to let them know the shape we’re in!

—Echo Rose Clark

Echo lived in almost constant pain from a botched spinal surgery, gangrene in the knee, and a condition that made too much scar tissue grow inside her body. But she was always ready and willing to have some fun, saying, “I’ll be in pain and feel rotten if I sit home, and I’ll be in pain if I go out and have some fun, so I’m going out to have some fun.” Not only is that statement applicable to all of us, it’s a perfect example of the way the language of life affects the living of life.
Answer the following questions in your Young Twice Chronicle [Note: in the book, a marginal icon appears each time the author suggests that the reader record something in a “Young Twice Chronicle” they are encouraged to keep on their own]:

What do you do just for fun?
What’s the last fun thing you did just for you?

Echo was great at one-liners, too. One day when she was in her eighties, we went out to lunch. As we approached the restaurant, an older gentleman smiled, winked, and held the door open for her. “Hey Grandma,” I said, “You’ve still got it.” Without missing a beat she replied, “Yeah, but at my age, who needs it?”

Your ability to laugh at yourself is a valuable accomplishment. It gives you enjoyment, connection, and good cheer as a defense against the bores and the boring, the sedate and the solemn, the dreary and the dull. The ability to perceive what’s amusing in the somber and serious, as well as in the comic, adds greatly to the language of your life.

“The Doctor says, ‘You’ll live to be eighty!’
am eighty!’
‘See, what did I tell you?’”

Henny Youngman, comic
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Excerpts (above and below) from You’re Only Young Twice: 10 Do-Overs to Reawaken Your Spirit by Ronda Beaman, EdD (VanderWyk & Burnham, 2006)
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Do-Over: Start a Comedy Club

Unless you exercise your sense of humor on a regular basis, your ability to use humor declines with age. Instead of a book club, or a cooking club, or even a Red Hat club, I suggest you start your very own comedy club. Get a package of party favor noisemakers, and attach an invitation to each to join in monthly wit, mirth, and laughter. Send invitations to people in your life who are already funny, and to the not-so-funny. Pick a monthly standing date, and call your get-together something like Live from My Living Room, It’s Wednesday Night! At your first meeting, read this mission statement adapted from Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart:

“Celebrate your success and find humor in your failures. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Loosen up and everyone around you will loosen up. Have fun and always show enthusiasm. When all else fails, put on a costume and sing a silly song.”

The chart presents some ideas to get you started.

Wearing big nose glasses at a service station will do more than fill up your tank; it will fuel your funny side. On a recent bumpy plane ride to Cody, Wyoming, I was lucky enough to have a flight attendant who donned a tiny, glittery cowboy hat and galloped down the aisle tossing us peanuts and pretzels. We were laughing so hard that we all forgot to get airsick!

Humor calls into play your beliefs about the world. Humor is a way to break out of your rigidity, a gentle way to alter the language of your life. Daily doses of humor and laughter bring you—in the immortalized words of Chuckles the Clown on the Mary Tyler Moore Show—“a little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants.”

Comedy Club Ground Rules

1. Figure out what makes you laugh and decide to do it, watch it, and read it more often. When you find something really funny, bring it to the next meeting to share.

2. Subscribe to a joke-a-day Web site. Just type into a search engine the word “jokes” or the name of your favorite comedian(s), and you’ll have plenty of choices.

3. Memorize one joke each month to deliver at the meeting.

4. Every member brings a cartoon to each meeting to share and swap.

5. A different member of the club serves as host for each meeting and determines the theme, costumes, and activities.

6. Invite guest speakers: local comics, singing telegram performers, and community theater actors. You’ll be surprised at the number of funny people in your community who will welcome the chance to talk about their work.

7. Hold your own Comedy Revue once a year. Invite spouses and friends, and feature the funniest jokes you’ve found during the year. Tell stories of humorous things that happened in meetings, and enlarge and post some of the best cartoons. In short, celebrate the laughs.

8. Do something fun, something outrageous, and something to make you laugh at every meeting. Rent funny movies: Arsenic and Old Lace with Cary Grant or Harvey with Jimmy Stewart. Introduce your club to the comedy of Monty Python. Visit the library to find old books by humorist Robert Benchley. Listen to old-time radio program tapes by satirist Stan Freberg.

9. Between meetings, challenge yourself to practice humor. Start writing your own jokes, and swap knock-knock jokes with kids.

10. Put together a Comedy Club First Aid Kit. Fill it with comedy cassettes, joke books, and various disguises like red clown noses or big nose glasses. Keep the kit in your car to pull out immediately when something happens that challenges humor—like getting stuck in traffic or seeing the outrageous price of gas!

Do-Over reprinted from You’re Only Young Twice: 10 Do-Overs to Reawaken Your Spirit by Ronda Beaman, EdD. Copyright 2006 by Ronda Ann Beaman. All rights reserved. Published by VanderWyk & Burnham, Acton, MA (www.VandB.com).

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Excerpts above from You’re Only Young Twice: 10 Do-Overs to Reawaken Your Spirit by Ronda Beaman, EdD (VanderWyk & Burnham, 2006). All rights reserved.
Excerpts are from You're Only Young Twice,
Copyright by Ronda Beaman, EdD. All rights reserved

© VanderWyk & Burnham. All Rights Reserved.