Old people are cranky, slow and boring. Kids are noisy, restless and irritating. For most of us, life is about making sure we stay as awesome as we are right now — we’ll always love our video games, and music, and eating burritos at two in the morning after the bars closed. Isn’t that what all the commercials tell us, that you’re only as old as you feel? Well, science has some bad news for you. The behaviors of the elderly that you write off as old-person lameness, and your behavior that the elderly credit to jerky rebellion, are all based in biology. And no, you can’t stop it. As you age:
7. Your Brain Will Stop Getting Pleasure from New Music
When you’re a kid, the absolute worst music in the world is whatever your parents are listening to. Then when you grow up, the absolute worst music in the world is whatever the teenagers are listening to. You’re still listening to real rock or rap, the hardcore stuff from back when music was genuine, while they’re listening to some derivative manufactured Justin Bieber crap. Dammit, why won’t they listen when you try to show then what real music sounds like? If you’re reading this and are somewhere in between the “kid” and “grownup” stages, you’re probably thinking that you’d never just let your musical tastes freeze in time. You’ll keep finding new bands as they emerge, staying on the cutting edge until the day you die. But Over Time … As you get older, your brain becomes more and more unable to handle dopamine, which, as we’ve pointed out before, is a big factor in making us feel “the chills” when a new exciting piece of music comes on. Because nothing you hear will have that same effect on you as the fresh exciting sounds of your youth, it will become harder and harder to get fired up about new music. Your musical taste will therefore stagnate, regardless of how on top of the trends you were at 17. If you want to know what new music will sound like when you’re 50, go spend an hour watching TV shows intended for toddlers. See how long you can tolerate it. So, you’ll get older and settle down and, inevitably, the ubiquitous Rumours album by Fleetwood Mac will mysteriously appear in your collection, like a Gideon Bible in a hotel. Just accept it.
6. The Physical Urge to Rebel Will Fade Away
You teenagers out there should be ashamed of yourselves. Flip on the news and check out the chilling stories of teen school shootings and teen pregnancy and teen cyberbullying and teen vandalism and all of your other teen crimes. Any senior citizen can tell you: Society is on the verge of collapse, and if you want proof, you only need to look at the state of the world’s out-of-control teenagers. It’s obvious why: Clearly, our godless immoral society has ruined our young people, filling their heads with the violent video games and the Jersey Shores and the dubstep. Just imagine what’s going to happen when these little monsters grow up. But Over Time … Don’t worry, dad — these little monsters will turn into the same boring insurance salesman you did. It’s all in how the brain develops. From the moment you tumble out of the womb until you turn 13 or so, you have a pretty solid contract with these tall people whose house you’re living in. Your parents are the embodiment of structure and order — you sleep when they tell you to sleep, eat what they tell you to eat and shit where they tell you to shit. Then, when your hormones start kicking in, suddenly you start rebelling against their tyrannical rule, staying out until 3 a.m., dedicating your homework time to video games and shitting in potted plants around the house. Old people have one simple theory to explain this: Teenagers are jerks. But if they are, it’s not necessarily their fault — studies suggest that although the brain develops pretty rapidly through childhood, the parts that enable you to feel empathy and guilt take longer to kick in. During those teenage years, what you get is someone who is capable of driving a motor vehicle but incapable of fully empathizing with fellow human beings. So, really, not a great combination there. Somebody could object that this isn’t true, because their kid was sweet and kind at age 10, but a jerkass at age 15. Well, that’s because it looks like puberty actually messes with your brain’s ability to read emotions, so for a while, you’re actually less empathetic than a 6-year-old. The combination of an underdeveloped sense of remorse and an inability to tell when you’re upsetting someone means that you’re much more likely to scream “I hate you, Mom!” when she tells you to pick the layer of underpants up off the floor. Eventually, though, the hormonal assault does wear off, and you begin to feel bad for all those times you called your mother a whore. It’s about the same time that you start to whine about teenagers being jerks.
5. Your Brain Will Start Getting Pleasure from Boring Crap
Aside from occasional exceptions, it’s rare to see senior citizens ramping things on a dirt bike. They, for the most part, don’t drive fast cars, or play pranks, or play violent video games, or do, well, anything exciting. This is one of the greatest dreads that teenagers have about growing older — life as a grownup seems so incredibly boring and lame. Each of us, at some point, has promised that this will never happen to us. But Over Time … The good news is, it’s not that bad. It turns out that this gradual switch over to preferring to redecorate the garage over electronic slaughter via Xbox actually has its roots in developing brain chemistry. In adolescence, the brain is less active in the motivation and planning areas, but highly active in the reward-based areas, and so you are drawn to activities with high-satisfaction payoffs but minimal effort expended to achieve them. In other words, you want big thrills, and you want them right now. Something like being pushed screaming down a busy street in a shopping cart requires no forethought (beyond how many YouTube views you hope to achieve), but your friends yelling “Dude!” and praising your “bravery” makes your brain pump out sweet sweet reward chemicals like dopamine. Fast-paced video games play to the same instant-reward, zero-investment part of the brain. But later in life, the thrill-seeking part of your brain starts to settle down and you start getting more satisfaction from modest highs, like having a nice flower garden, and you’re more willing to put in the effort to achieve these goals in the long term. Spending a whole day in front of a video game starts to feel like a wasted day. But that’s not the only guilty pleasure you’ll lose your taste for. You’ll also find that …
4. It Will Become Physically Impossible to Sleep In
When you are young, you think nothing of sleeping until midday, and your parents chide you for being a lazy, shiftless layabout. Your parents also may chide (if they dare) your grandparents for being seemingly unable to stop themselves from leaping out of bed at the ungodly hour of 5 a.m. and tidying the house. The oversleeping teenager and crack-of-dawn-awakening retiree are two images that seem indelibly inked into the canvas of life. In both cases, we tie a moral judgment to it — teens are too lazy, old people are too nervous and fussy. But Over Time … Sleep is dictated by a chemical in your brain called melatonin. Scientists have tested how melatonin is produced by teenagers over the course of a day, and found that teenagers’ bodies work on a kind of “permanent state of jet lag,” wherein they are most alert in the afternoon and evening, but it takes much longer to rouse them in the morning. Yep, Mom, it’s not because the boys are shiftless and lazy and rebellious — their own body clocks are working against them. We expect things to be haywire as a teenager, but the brain chemistry keeps changing well into adulthood, meaning the older you get, the harder it actually is to stay in bed, even if you try. So, one day, you too will feel an overwhelming urge to vacuum at sunrise on a Saturday and be in bed by 8. It’s not because you suddenly learned responsibility — it’s because your body set the clock back.
3. You Will Stop Trying to Change the World (If You Are a Man)
There are few things as frightening to a well-toned 20-something male as the sight of his balding, soft-bellied dad, his body pulverized and out of shape from years of being a hardworking dude. Surely it’s just complacency, right? You’ll make sure never to let the world beat you like that. You’ll push HARD, work HARD and damn well have the body of a male stripper well into your 70s. And even sadder is the attitude of these old middle-management types — guys who were hard-driving badasses in their 20s, only to turn into bored, soft, middle-aged golf enthusiasts at 45. We’ll never be like those losers! They sold out, man, and we’re gonna keep it real. But Over Time … There’s a common conception that men “think with their manhood,” but that’s a crude and insulting stereotype. We should be looking just a half an inch lower, to their testes. More specifically, it’s all about testosterone, the hormone men have to thank for a lot of their drive and physique. You probably already know that testosterone is what shapes the male body in puberty in terms of increased muscle mass, deeper voice, hair growth and sexual virility. What people lose track of is that these changes continue through your life — testosterone levels peak around age 40, and then start to go down. And as hard as you may try to prevent it, it takes that rock-hard physique away with it. This is why that wobbly belly becomes harder and harder to lose and why things like muscle aches and increased daytime fatigue start to occur. And with that come changes in your attitude. A low testosterone level can be unconsciously emotionally devastating for men, and symptoms include increased irritability, depression and lack of motivation. The condition is called the “andropause,” the male version of the poorly named menopause that women experience, and this is most likely the driving reason why the male midlife crisis kicks in and men start either fighting the process with superficial changes (like sports cars, fashion changes or trying to start a rap career) or just settle in with the slippers and hot drink and damn well accept it.
2. You Will Find Yourself Eating Bland Food, Because You Can’t Taste It
You like to think that your taste in food only gets better as you get older. You wouldn’t eat the stuff you see a toddler eating, all sugary drinks and frozen chicken nuggets shaped like cartoon characters. And when you hit 30, you look back at the all-burrito-and-pizza diet of your college years with equal disgust. Your tastes get more sophisticated, and by middle age, you’re growing your own herbs and have memorized the precise number of seconds a steak must remain on the grill in order to be perfect. So why is it that old people wind up eating the same horrible crap every night? You see them lined up at all-you-can-eat buffet places that serve bland chicken and mashed potatoes. You might think that it’s some holdover from the Great Depression, when they got a taste for stale bread, porridge and the dust from the window frames. But this will never happen to you, right? But Over Time … It isn’t really through choice that our diets get blander as we get older. Old people just can’t taste anything, and it’s mostly because of dry mouth. As you get older, your mouth produces less saliva, and saliva is actually essential for taste because it breaks down the food and washes it over your taste buds. Older people also tend to simply lose their appetites, and with it the joy of eating. So where a tasty meal used to be the highlight of your day when you were young, it eventually becomes a chore, especially when a dry slice of toast tastes the same as chicken fettuccine. The toast has the advantage of being easier to prepare, so it always wins out.
1. Your Memories of the Past Will Become “The Good Old Days”
Why is it when people get older they seem incapable of getting their brains out of the past? There’s a reason why we love to laugh at Grandpa Simpson — lots of old people are exactly like him, rambling through their life story and how everything was better back in the day when they had to risk catching polio just to get breakfast. Is it because the world really has gone to hell in their time? Or, like all the rest of the things on this list, is it just biological change messing with their heads? But Over Time … As crazy as it sounds, the tendency for old people to ramble on about the past may actually have been programmed into them by evolution. And that means you’ll do it, too, once your cave dweller DNA kicks in. See, nostalgia actually has an evolutionally beneficial purpose in that it stimulates a natural antidepressant in the brain. As we get older, this reflex only becomes more pronounced. The weight and stresses of life mount up with age and added responsibility, and so having a larger amount of life experience to reminisce over helps the brain calm itself and allow us to continue existing. Back in prehistoric times, the risk of becoming depressed in your cold, dank cave without so much as basic cable would have been a death sentence in a world where you had to fight cougars for your lunch. The survivors in this world would have been the ones who kept up the drive to keep at it year after year.