8,000 Days vital signs and statistics

Many live by the mantra of taking things “one day at a time”, but the researchers at MIT’s AgeLab suggest that we think of the lifespan through the lens of life phases comprised of 8,000 days —or roughly 20 years. The first 8,000 are about “ Growing”. The second 8,000 days are for “ Learning”, including starting professional careers, choosing relationships, establishing a home and choosing to assume responsibility for a family. “ Maturing” is the next phase which includes the prime career years, welcoming grandchildren, and re-establishing one’s lifestyle. So far, so good. Most of us could probably agree to these general descriptions spanning the first 27,000 days or 65 years.

It is the last phase of 8,000 days, called “Exploring”, which might stretch our understanding of what we are to do in these later 20 years.

When the age of 65 was established in the late 1880’s as the time to retire, the average life expectancy was the late 40s. There were so few people that lived beyond the age of 65 that they were “rewarded” for their hard labor and given a few years to rest before they died. In the 130+ years since then, we have added 30-40 years to the human life span, and yet, the age nor the concept of “retirement” has budged much at all. Dr. Joseph Coughlin from the AgeLab suggests that this phase is ripe for people “waiting to be invented”. Or to use a more spiritual concept, it may be a time for significant transformation.

Back to the MIT AgeLab research: “Most people have a clear image of Day One (of these last 8,000 days). Maybe even Day 1,001. But few can imagine 8,000 days of golf, and even fewer have a vision of what they will be doing on any given day—such as Day 4,567.” (Hartford Funds whitepaper “8,000 Days: An Entire phase of your life waiting to be invented, page 4). Instead of thinking in terms of one gradual decline to death, let’s consider the AgeLab’s four phases:

The Honeymoon Phase. It is estimated that in 2022, 32% of those age 65-74 (8,000 Days: An entire phase of your life waiting to be invented, page 5) will be working at least part-time during the first 4,000 days of this phase. But, they will have more freedom when they work, and they may be better able to balance part-time work with leisure activities and engagement with things that connect with their own passions.

There can be a shift in responsibilities in this first phase including the desire to try new things or spend more time on existing interests. Planning for a long future and providing support and care are key for both their own aging parents and the younger generations of their family. And, despite these responsibilities, they report greater well-being than their earlier adult years. “Though it may seem counter-intuitive, even though we see a depletion of physical, financial, social, and perhaps, even cognitive resources, emotional well-being in older adulthood is high in comparison to other stages of life” (8,000 Days: An entire phase of your life waiting to be invented, page 8).

The Big Decision Phase is characterized by even more “free” time in that they rely less on even part-time work to supplement their income, but now rely on Social Security, pensions, IRAs and savings and are more likely to be living on a “fixed” income. The big decisions that are made in this phase include whether to stay in their current home or move to a new one. Should they stay in the same town or move somewhere warmer, or closer to their children and grandchildren? Forty-two percent of people downsize while 34% actually up-size (8,000 Days: An entire phase of your life waiting to be invented, page 6)! Home maintenance, distance from family, access to supports and services and the realistic look at the accessibility of their current home are often the reasons taken in consideration of whether or not to move. Are there ministry opportunities for congregations to support their members who are facing these decisions?

The Navigating Longevity Phase begins when taking care of your health becomes a full-time job. Medications are the key to managing chronic conditions and those age 80-84 take an average of 18 prescriptions per year (8,000 Days: An entire phase of your life waiting to be invented, page 7). Increasingly they need the help of family and friends highlighting the importance of having legal contingencies in place for this phase and the next.

Instead of thinking of “retirement” as one chapter, these four phases help to plan for our well-being, providing us with options and choices rather than merely reacting to things beyond our control. And although most people look to their financial advisers for help with this planning, perhaps our pastors and the church might also actively invite members into these conversations. After all, we should be comfortable with asking questions that allow others to explore meaning and purpose as they discern God’s call to use their gifts in every phase of life. The church needs to expect that we will continually be invited into the transformation of this world in order that all of creation might know of God’s glory.