WEF: A 100-Year Life, Well-Lived

My husband’s grandmother is nearing 102 years of age, and a colleague just celebrated her grandfather’s 100th birthday. Reaching this age used to seem like a pipe dream, but as living beyond 100 becomes more common, I’ve found myself, and my social circle, discussing what this trend will mean for us and our children. Will our quality of life improve as our longevity increases? What lifestyle changes should we be making now to improve our odds of living healthy later?

This week at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos, I’ve been in countless sessions that have talked about the implications of longer lifespans. In one session on Preparing for a 100-Year Life, author Lynda Gratton explained how with each decade, the average lifespan increases by two years, and that more than 50 percent of children born today in wealthy countries like the U.S., U.K., Japan, Germany and France will live past 100. Certainly, such a reality will require us to rethink our perception of age. AARP CEO Joann Jenkins noted, “Someone who was 55 or 60 often used to be seen as over the hill. That’s not the case today.” Perhaps a cultural shift will be needed to take away the stigma of aging and a focus on the important role older adults play will take its place. Columbia University geriatrician Linda Fried noted that in society, older adults often become culture bearers and the glue that holds families together. They have a lifetime of assets, skills and intellectual capabilities to tackle complex problems in our world.

But how do we ensure that our longer lives are fulfilling?

One session on Nurturing Wisdom and Wellness made me think differently about health and well-being. I do what I can to keep a healthy body and mind and live my best self each day, but I don’t think I gave much thought to how lifestyle changes I make today are also setting me up for a longer, healthier future. Dr. Dean Ornish, an expert on lifestyle medicine, discussed how certain lifestyle changes can prevent chronic diseases like diabetes and breast cancer and has been shown to reduce prostate cancer growth.

And living a fulfilling life extends beyond healthy diets and meditation. It only makes sense that the longer we live, the longer we will need to work in order to afford our cost of living. “If we live 30 years longer, then in order to retire at 60 we would have to save five times as much during our working lives,” Gratton said. “It’s the end of retirement as we know it.” Such a prediction is already becoming a reality to Jenkins – the American Association of Retired Persons rebrand to AARP was because more and more of its members were of retirement age but still working.

But if we are to remain in the workforce longer, it is up to each of us to take more ownership of our own careers to ensure we remain engaged, educated and inspired by the work we do. At the Global Talent Competitive Index event (hosted in part by client Adecco), Levo CEO Caroline Ghosn talked about how life-long learning will be key to job fulfillment, and that each of us need to be responsible for our own flexible learning paths. According to Adecco CEO Alain Dehaze, as the workforce ages, the way companies up-skill current employees will become even more crucial than training the next generation. In her session, Gratton suggested that in the future, more people will begin taking “gap years” later in life to explore personal passions and consider new career paths.

The prospect of living longer is exciting, but it also raises some questions about what such a shift would mean for each of us personally, professionally and financially. The discussion impacts so many aspects of our world, with experts in healthcare, food, finance, and human resources all contributing interesting perspectives in Davos. One statement made by the U.N. Population Fund’s Babatunde Osotimehin really stuck with me – he said that we need to value interdependence as much as we value independence. “We should work part time and make relationships our full-time job. If we don’t get our relationships right, it’s not worth living a 100-year life.”