We were at a community barbecue and I wandered over to join a group of young women. As I quietly began to join the group, I heard a young mother saying to the others “we were there for ages, you know how older people go on and on about their lives.”
Do we, I thought, go on and on? Do I? I slipped away from the group, although I admit it was tempting to barge in and go on and on.
But the question snagged my attention. Do older people talk more than others about their lives, their past, their opinions and their views of the world?
I could not find any evidence-based information online so I did my own survey. I asked 10 people of various ages from 25 to 73, the question – do people over 65 talk more about themselves and their opinions than younger people?
Eight of the 10 said yes.
Let’s remember that a sample of 10 is not a statistically useful survey but is probably similar to the sample size on which expensive face creams base their claims!
Firstly, let’s understand that wanting to talk about yourself, which includes talking about your ideas, is normal behaviour.
Talking about yourself, no matter what your age, stimulates the reward centres of the brain. It feels good. That asks a further question.
Why have we been wired to talk about ourselves? Perhaps because we are also wired for connection. We need to be accepted and approved of by others.
When we talk about ourselves we will get a response of some sort which tells us more about ourselves and whether we are fitting in with others.
It can help keep us on track. It might even validate us, so talking about yourself, your views and opinions is normal and useful.
But the question remains, why might this behaviour increase as we get older?
Perhaps life stages theory provides part of the answer. Once people have retired they often have to address creating identity and purpose.
Who are you now without work, whether that work was paid or family centred? And then there is opportunity. Once retired, there is often more opportunity for reflection and for incidental chatting.
It could be a chance meeting with a stranger at a bus stop that provides a space to review and reflect. This seemingly unimportant chatting helps to establish a sense of self, of who you are in the world.
For the older person, this life stage can also involve coming to terms with how you have lived your life. Anecdotally this seems to happen more and more with increasing age.
Psychologists call it Life Review. The purpose is to come to peace and acceptance about what you have done in life, both the successes and failures.
It is also about finding meaning. We do this review by talking about the life that has been lived.
Perhaps older people do talk more about themselves or perhaps not. Perhaps the content of conversation that focuses more on review and reflection creates a sense of being self-focused and going on and on.
Let me add that like all generalisations there are always many exceptions. Not everyone chats fulsomely. Not everyone enjoys talking about themselves. Not everyone reviews their life experiences.
But it is important to talk about yourself. Otherwise, others do not know you and you might find it harder to know yourself.
I can’t wait for the next community barbecue. I have a great story to tell about how I learned to cook sausages on a wood fire.
Judy Rafferty is the author of Retirement Your Way, A Practical Guide to Knowing What You Want and How to Get It, at all good bookshops and online.