Boomers: Contrary to popular belief, not the American generation who had it made…

Find Your Reason Cover smallEver since I heard from a fellow writer about a troll who goes around trashing boomers for ruining their life, I have been thinking about how the generation we are born into affects how we choose to live our lives and how we see ourselves. I have been studying this issue for years now, and wrote about the boomers’ place in history, how our lives compared to our parents, and how we are different psychologically, in my book Find Your Reason To Be Here: The Search for Meaning in Midlife, published in 2013.

“Our generation began with a literal BANG! when the USA used two nuclear bombs against Japan in 1945. Then in 1962, as children, we witnessed the Cuban Missile Crisis, a time when there existed roughly enough nuclear weapons on earth to erase human civilization one thousand times over. Our parents sat on the edge of their seats, wondering if the human race would simply disappear from this earth in nuclear holocaust. One cannot help but wonder what the long-term emotional consequences are of experiencing this type of worldwide threat as a small child. This is an important question that may be hard to pin down but cannot be ignored.” (page 7 in my book)

We were also the beginning of the “Age of Permanent Distraction” we see today:

“At times it seems we [boomers] were nothing but guinea pigs in a long line of mind-clutter experiments. As in no previous generation, our brains have been filled with far too much mindless television, in-your-face commercialism, and non-stop media coverage. We were the first generation to grow up with television. From the music of the early years, most notably rock ’n’ roll, transistor radios and then “boom boxes” allowed us to distract ourselves constantly by carrying around our music everywhere we went.”  (page 9 in my book)

Contrary to some young ones who believe we had it made in our youth, with great jobs opportunities, spoiled rotten while we gobbled up natural resources as fast as we could with no regard for the future, our generation was found to be “the gloomiest generation” by the Pew Research Center in 2008.

Most boomers are under serious financial strain today, worrying more often than their parents did about money, and suffering a number of stress-related illnesses as a consequence. Many of us are also feeling financially stretched because we are supporting both our children and our aging parents. More than half of boomers still provide financial support to at least one adult child.

mortality rates among white boomers

The death rate among Americans 45-54, increased dramatically between 1999 and 2013 compared to other developed countries.

“The increased deaths were concentrated among those with the least education and resulted largely from drug and alcohol “poisonings,” suicide, and chronic liver diseases and cirrhosis. This midlife mortality reversal had no parallel in any other industrialized society or in other demographic groups in the United States.” 

Stress is perhaps the single most important psychological factor affecting boomer health today, contributing to higher midlife suicide rates than any other developed country. Poor self-esteem is another important stress-related factor that can and does lead to a number of chronic health problems. Poor self-esteem can cause us to indulge in addictive behaviors like excessive shopping, overeating, and gambling, and overuse of alcohol, tranquilizers, antidepressants, and sleep aids. People with low self-esteem also are less likely to maintain stable social relationships.

But I guess the statistic that concerns me the most about my generation is that most of us have little or no savings for retirement. No wonder so many of us are depressed. The future doesn’t look good for most of us.

 

Homeless in Sedona: Mother Nature’s Son

After a visit to northern Arizona to spend time with my brother, who lives in a lean-to along a creek, and a few chance meetings with other boomers who are barely scraping by, I thought I would inform you about one I know very well.

John Carter 2003 with guitar

My brother’s case is the most extreme that I personally know of, because he is basically homeless, but in his case he is also happy. He moved south from Durango six years ago with no particular destination, and ended up camping along Oak Creek Canyon north of Sedona, Arizona. His family had no idea where he was for three years, until he got in trouble with the Forest Service, and a kind ranger suggested he should give us a call. When I visited him recently he told me the whole story.

Within a week after arriving in Sedona, he found some construction work, but he also had his sleeping bag stolen. The head of his construction company bought him a new one, no questions asked. He has found nothing but helpful people in this city full of millionaires and those that serve them. Someone is always willing to help him out, and the best part for him is living in nature.

He is now on private land and providing a type of care-taking along the creek. We discovered quickly that getting down to the creek is no small accomplishment. The trail is quite steep with parts of it roped to help with some rocky footing. After you make it down there, the next challenge is fording Oak Creek, scary for me, but Mike went over to see John’s camp. He lives in a wood-framed tarp lean-to with a solar-powered lantern and wind-up radio.

His favorite pastime is sitting outside playing his guitar. He is an accomplished singer and songwriter. I wish more people could hear his music. Here’s a sample on YouTube. I have a CD of his mostly instrumental creations if anyone would like one. He picks up extra money playing in the coffee shops and bars in Sedona.

I have never met a person who so loves living in nature. Everyone in our family enjoys solitude and nature. My Dad is a botanist and naturalist, and we were raised camping out more than most, but John is willing to put up with snakes in his sleeping bag and scorpions in his lean-to to continue in his chosen lifestyle. He recently started receiving Social Security, but still chooses to live outside. Besides, he could never afford the rents in Sedona!

How many more years will he be able to make it down that steep hill and across the creek? He doesn’t appear to be worried…

Brother John will always be “Mother Nature’s Son” to me.