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BOOK REVIEW: 'The Wisdom Years: Unleashing Your Potential in Later Life'

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Simone Denereaz reviews a new book that will help anyone get the most out of their retirement years.

IN The Wisdom Years: Unleashing Your Potential in Later Life, author Dr Zvi Lanir, PhD poses the question: ‘why should we assume that we “officially” enter old age when we retire?’ He asks readers to consider how they would like to live 20 years of good life, post-retirement.

As Dr Lanir encounters retirement, he embarks on a journey to improve his quality of life and his physical health, which he describes as being in a dire state and to embrace and understand the opportunities ahead of him. He describes this journey as a structured process aimed at enhancing his functional age (or hidden age), which is the age he feels rather than his chronological age.

In his book, Dr Lanir explains his journey from the chronological age of 67, which is the official retirement age in Israel according to the Department of Social Security, to 80 years old and he invites readers to be an explorer with him on their own journey of retirement and ageing. He attempts to create new and simple pathways for readers and to assist them to reach their full potential and improve their health.

There is an enormous journey ahead for the world, as it adapts and reorganises to prepare for a very different future with regarding to ageing and work and it recognises the increasing needs of our ageing population. ‘The Wisdom Years’ provides useful statistics to understand this future with respect to population and ageing.

Dr Lanir indicates that the U.N. has predicted that by the year 2050, the developed countries of the world will contain around 26 per cent of people aged 65 or older. These people are expected to outnumber children under five, which is the inverse of the situation historically. He notes the consequences to the public health system and society will be severe and that many people reach retirement and their wisdom years worn down and in fragile health.

According to Dr Lanir’s research, there has been an increasing need for additional resources and research to assist with retirement and ageing for some time. He indicates there is almost no public awareness of the implications of ageing for society and the economy during the period in life he defines as the wisdom period. He believes an effective understanding of this period will take time and greater organisation by people who are ageing, to combat the negative impacts of ageism in a similar way that increasing awareness assisted to give attention and combat the negatives effects of sexism and racism.

Dr Lanir has selected information carefully for the book and condensed it into three parts. Part one of the book describes his own journey from the hidden age and through the wisdom years to old age. Part two describes his research and the theoretical foundation for his journey from a psychological, neurological and biological perspective and part three offers practical, physical, emotional, cognitive and social advice to assist readers with their own journey.

Dr Lanir provides a warning for ageing people that society will be reluctant to accept anomalies from the current stereotypes which depict elderly people and challenges fellow retirees not to act their age and to discover new meaning in life. He asks them to be willing to take unknown directions without end goals and to follow their mind and heart to encounter new and exciting discoveries about how they would like to live their life. Some of the unexpected changes Dr Lanir made to his life included selling his car and taking yoga classes regularly.   

Dr Lanir provides a short professional biography in the initial pages of the easy-to-read, engaging 222-page book. Professionally, he has been a founding President of the Praxis Institute for over 30 years which has specialised in disruptive change and during the past 15 years, he has conducted research into ageing with the aim of discovering new ways of doing it well.

He is a graduate of Israel Defence Forces Command and Staff College, has a PhD from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and is a visiting scholar of NY Columbia University. He is more than qualified to write ‘The Wisdom Years’. Within his writing, I can discern a teacher, a scientist and a well-read and scholarly man who wants to be the best person he can be and enrich his life and the lives of others. He displays a great mind for thinking, creativity and working through problems and he has used simple techniques and a comprehensive and engaging range of resources to explain his theories and practices.

His book is believable and conveys a belief in others to do well, too. His writing reminds me of Malcolm Gladwell and perhaps also Oliver Sacks. I contemplated whether I should address the author as Zvi or Dr Lanir in this review, as the book is written in the language of a friendly man with the intellect of a philosopher and scientist. The reader does not need to be an intellectual or scholarly person and only requires a basic level of intellect to understand the information provided. The book could be read and understood by a high school student, which is an achievement given the voracity and effectiveness of the topic and the complexity of Dr Lanir’s own journey.

‘The Wisdom Years’ demonstrates a respect for humanity and an empathetic approach to an important period in every person’s life. It is a motivating and at times personal book which communicates the importance of each person encountering the ageing process, the distinction between chronological and functional, hidden age and the opportunities retirement and the wisdom years offer for each person to rediscover and reinvigorate their life while disregarding certain vulnerabilities and pains of the past.

Of the many quotes, references and anecdotes in the book, a quote from George Orwell’s book 1984 is one I recall quickly:

‘Death does not begin when the heart stops. Rather death starts when a person loses the ability to think of new ways of achieving self-fulfilment and becomes resigned to the repetition of the same old things, trapped by the same old thoughts.’

If you feel like you are stuck in familiar and demotivating patterns and experiencing life in negative ways at any age, ‘The Wisdom Years’ will provide potential pathways to improved mental and physical health and greater self-awareness. Elderly people and people entering retirement will experience an affinity with Dr Lanir’s writing. Don’t wait, buy it immediately for yourself or a friend or relative.   

Simone Denereaz is a management consultant, lecturer and writer. She specialises in strategy, finance, business and innovation. 

‘The Wisdom Years: Unleashing Your Potential in Later Life’ is available from Exisle Publishing for $29.99 (paperback) RRP.

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