Thursday, August 16, 2012

Happiness of the Elderly

The 21st century, only 12 years old, is being called the century of the "new old." Increasingly, the global elderly population is outnumbering all other age categories. In France, it took 120 years to arrive at this point; in Korea only 26. The economic implications of this new social reality are troubling, says a priest in his Peace Weekly column on "Happiness."

Growing old gracefully in Korea is going to be more difficult than it has been in the past, he says. Many Korean parents are not setting aside enough money to provide for their retirement and old age, spending most of their earnings on an expensive college education for their children, and giving them whatever is left over. The accepted belief is that if children are raised well, the parents will have an easy time of it after retirement.

The harsh reality is that graduating from college requires a great deal of money and those that graduate are not guaranteed a job. Over 1 million young people in their 20s are unemployed and skilled labor jobs go begging, In Germany, the columnist notes, skilled labor jobs are prepared for by students while they are in middle school, the children deciding, according to aptitude and preference, to prepare either for college or for a trade.

Another troublesome reality: When we get old the body begins to break down, and though many parents will turn to their children for help, the  children often show little concern for their sick parents. Children tend to be close to their parents until age 10, the priest says, and then gradually begin distancing themselves from them.

Another problem is the lack of friends. Korea leads in the number of suicides among the developed countries. In Japan, the reason for suicides is loneliness  but in Korea it is mostly money concerns. Being old and without money decreases confidence, which makes it more difficult to socialize with friends.

However, the priest feels the biggest problem is adjusting to living with the personal idiosyncrasies of your partner, especially after many years of marriage--unless you have built up a reservoir of love. In their 20s, if couples don't feel well matched, the priest says that in their 30s they will work at being more compatible. And in their 40s, they will work on the weak points so that in their 50s they will truly become lovers.

Working toward this type of compatibility takes a great deal of effort. In France, around the Champs-Elysee, you find the older people drinking wine and going to restaurants.  In Korea, the older people will be found at Pagoda Park, while the young, using their parents' money, are dining out at good restaurants.

It is said that when the root is strong, the tree will be strong and the fruit will be plentiful; the elderly are the roots of our society. However, in these troublesome times, the happiness of the aged has become an important topic of conversation. According to a ranking of countries based on the level of happiness within the country, out of the 179 countries surveyed, Korea ranked 102,

This "unhappy" situation should be a concern to all of us, beginning with a rethinking of the financial support usually given by parents to their children. Without sufficient thought being given to the future needs of the parents when they are old, not only will the happiness index of the country not improve, but the happiness index of our elderly will suffer even more.  

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