World after
How do we navigate
the changes ahead?
How do we navigate
the changes ahead?
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Laura Carstensen, Psychology & Aging


Psychology & Aging

Laura Carstensen


Laura L. Carstensen is the Fairleigh S. Dickinson Jr. Professor in Public Policy and founding director of the Stanford Center on Longevity. She is the recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship and the Kleemeier Award for her research on the motivational and emotional changes that occur with age. She is an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine and the author of A Long Bright Future.

Transcription of the video


Which domain or aspect of social life will show the most significant positive societal and/or psychological change in response to the pandemic?

My hope is that one positive change that can come about because of the pandemic is that people will be better able to challenge and see some of the tacit assumptions that they make about life. The certainty with which we predict that our lives will remain stable, the certainty that we will have health and financial security and contact with our loved ones. And by recognizing the fragility of these aspects of our lives, they will come to have greater importance and greater value.

What kind of wisdom will people need to capitalize on the positive societal and/or psychological change after the pandemic?

In order to really benefit from the challenges that this pandemic has presented, we will need to remember these experiences. We will need to remember what it was like to step outside of our culture and look inward. To the extent that we forget, and we simply go back to the way that our lives were lived before, we will lose the lessons that we have, hopefully, been taught during this challenging time.

Which domain or aspect of social life will show the most significant negative societal and/or psychological change in response to the pandemic?

I fear that the pandemic has the potential to raise the sense of alienation from others and even a sense of fear of others. That we will keep our distance, so to speak, which we’re being told to do every day, but to allow that to create a psychological distance between us as individuals and the people who live in our communities that we see every day. We need to connect with others around these times and… It would be a terrible shame if instead we distanced ourselves, and even worse, came to dislike and fear others.

What kind of wisdom will people need to master to overcome major negative societal and/or psychological changes after the pandemic?

To me, recognition of the fragility of life. And certainly, the COVID pandemic is reminding us of that. It’s really one of the greatest gifts that we have, as humans. That is, the abilities that we have. To our knowledge, we are the only species that is aware of our mortality throughout virtually all of our lives. And this appreciation for fragility contributes to a concern for the world, as we know it. It allows us to see what’s important and what’s not important. And it turns out, most of the things we worry about in life are not important. And so to the extent that we can keep that sense of that awareness, of fragility of ourselves and others around us, I think we will be able to capitalize on these insights and be able to live our lives more mindfully, aware that the way that we use time is important, that we shouldn’t waste time, that we need to savor the best aspects of life and let the negative aspects of life go.

What piece of wisdom do people need to make it through the pandemic?

I am reluctant to label any words that I have as wise. I do believe that a perspective that often comes with age is one that helps people through tough times. And the that insight is that a bad times pass. This, too, will pass. And maybe more importantly, we recognize the good times pass, too. And so we should find strength in the knowledge that the toughest times will recede. And we should focus more than ever and savor more, the really good times in life because they are also fleeting, and thus precious.
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