Age and Enthusiasm
Norman Vincent Peale

It is true that all our lives we are conditioned to assume that mental and physical vigor are supposed to decline after we have made, say, sixty or seventy or eighty trips around the sun on a whirling sphere called earth.  I heard a man say one evening as we sat by the fireplace in his home and listened to the romantic ticking of an old clock, "This clock is ticking my life away."  But no instrument manufactured a hundred years or so ago can determine the quality of anyone's life.  No mechanism for time measurement should cause a person one day to say, "Now I'm old; the end is near."

Old age may perhaps more properly be thought of as a state of mind in which certain mental attitudes, built by customary and traditional thinking into the conscious and unconscious mind, convince us that the life force is declining and we are therefore expected to think aged, act aged, and in fact, be aged.  That fascinating description of aging in the Bible says nothing about time measurements such as minutes, days, weeks or years but refers, rather, to deteriorating mental attitudes.  "When they shall be afraid of that which is high [i.e., when they shall have lost enthusiasm, or when the positive principle has sagged], and fears shall be in the way. . ." (Ecclesiastes, 12:5).

It is altogether likely that people of all ages--so-called old age as well as those of fewer or younger years--can live better, healthier, happier lives by getting turned on to self-repeating enthusiasm.  The real fountain of youth is not to be discovered by Ponce de Leon hunting in some magic isle, but, rather, in revitalizing attitudes of mind.  And certainly it is present in the dynamic thought that we can live youthfully now and always.  I have never forgotten something that was said to me by former Postmaster General James A. Farley.  I asked how he accounted for the seemingly slight effect the passing years had on him.  His reply was classic:  "I never think any old thoughts."

Live Youthfully Now

"If most of us surrender to the passing of years," says Mr. Kemp, "and let them make us old, but certain others defy the passage of an even greater number of years and retain the vigor and enjoyment of life associated with youth, can it be possible that aging is really our own fault?  Is the effect that passing years have on our bodies really an individual matter?  Here is what some modern medical scientists have to say upon this point.

"After a conference of medical and surgical specialists at the Decourcy Clinic in Cincinnati some years ago, the following report was issued:  'Time is not toxic.  All of those who develop a time-neurosis subscribe to the prevalent superstition that time is in some way a poison exerting a mysterious cumulative action. . . time has no effect on human tissues under any conditions. . . vigor does not necessarily vary inversely with the age of an adult.  Belief in the effects of time by those who subscribe to such a belief is the thing that acts as a poison.'

"To put it another way, there is no scientific basis for believing, as most of us do, that the passage of years automatically causes our bodies to age.  [And, presumably, that would go for spirit and mind as well.]  'It is ignorance of the truth about the passage of time,' the report continues, 'that causes us to cringe in fear before the accumulation of years.  We need not surrender to age, if our minds are sufficiently enlightened.'"

Mr. Kemp continues by telling us that a Michigan doctor, Frederick C. Swartz, debunked the so-called infirmities of age.  "'The forgetful mind, the doddering gait, the shaky hand--these are caused by the lack of physical and mental exertion, and not by the passage of time.  Our present conception of the aging process must be shattered, and our already brainwashed oldsters made to see the nature of their ailments.  Daily mental and physical exercise practiced with some degree of self-discipline should raise the life-expectancy figure ten years in one generation.'

"Dr. Swartz spoke of the fatal concept that debilities come with age, and that at sixty-five one is 'over the hill.'  If accepted, this condemns one to a period of ever-narrowing horizons, until the final sparks of living are the psychoneurotic concerns with the workings of his or her own body."

Enthusiasm Key to Continuous Youth

One wonders if an enthusiastic young person who kept it going all his or her life could not restrain and slow up the aging process.  A philosopher may have spoken a wise insight when he said, "The secret of genius is to carry the spirit of the child into old age."  Children are by nature enthusiastic, and the effective person retains that spirit throughout his or her entire life.  As Wordsworth has it, "Trailing clouds of glory. . . we come from God, who is our home."  The child remains dynamic, excited, interested, eager--until a negative time concept gets in its deadly work; and the jaded so-called sophistication of our time takes its toll; until it may be said, as the poet expressed so graphically:

The youth, who daily farter from the east
Must travel, still is Nature's priest,
And by the vision splendid
Is on his way attended;
At length the man perceives it die away,
And fade into the light of common day.

Indeed, it could be that the saddest phenomenon in the developing life of any individual is the decay of enthusiasm.  But this sad process need not take place if creative and positive thought is made a consistent practice.  And, if the mind has not been disciplined to those practices that are propitious to the maintenance of enthusiasm, it is always possible to begin a program of cultivation at any time.  And inevitably, with such revamping will come a powerful rebirth or rejuvenation of personality force and, who knows, perhaps of physical force as well!

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Youth is not a time of life--it is a state of mind.  Nobody grows old
by merely living a number of years; people grow old by deserting their ideals.
Years may wrinkle your skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles your soul.
You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubts; as young as your
self-confidence, as old as your fear; as young as your hope, as old as your despair.
In the central place of your heart there is a recording chamber; so long as it
receives messages of beauty, hope, cheer, and courage--so long are you young.
When the wires are all down and your heart is covered with the snow
of pessimism and the ice of cynicism, then--and only then--are you grown old.

Samuel Ullman



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Enthusiasm is the thing which makes the world go round.  Without its
driving power, nothing worth doing has ever been done.  Love, friendship,
religion, altruism, devotion to career or hobby—all these, and most
of the other good things of life, are forms of enthusiasm.

Robert H. Schauffler