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TERRI SCHLICHENMEYER: "Life Gets Better" extols the pleasures of growing older

The first one was easily dealt with.

You plucked it and threw it away, and you made a mental note: buy hair dye. But then that one gray strand was accompanied by others, followed by wrinkles and an increasing number of failing body parts.

You wonder what's next.

You wonder when you turned old.

But would you really want to be 18 again?For most, the answer is no because there's plenty of good about growing older, as you'll see in the new book "Life Gets Better" by Wendy Lustbader.

Several years ago, while on an excursion in New Zealand, Wendy Lustbader and her traveling companions were asked to say a little something about themselves to the group. Lustbader told the bus full of mostly 18-to-24-year-olds not to worry, that theirs were "the worst years of [their] lives."

Relief washed over her companions' faces and each of them, one by one, thanked her for her wise words. That got Lustbader, a social worker, to thinking. Most of the elders she knew -- including her middle-aged self -- seemed happier than her younger compatriots, less stressed, and more at ease.

And yet, youth is venerated in our society and most people dread the signs of aging, perhaps because they don't know what their elders have already discovered.

With age, says Lustbader, comes self-knowledge: we know who we are, and we're satisfied with it. We've been tested and have survived "more solid than before." We can accept praise more readily because we know we've earned it. We're grateful for that which we have, even if it's with creaky bones. We are glad for what we have because we recognize that there are others with less.

To have aged is to have learned to give and receive. We have seen time fly, so we know how to better use it. Decisions are wiser, resilience is greater, and so is our ability to relax.We're more courageous when faced with the new.

Age confers the knowledge that not everything is worth fighting over, which makes relationships feel more comfortable. Past sibling rivalry diminishes and love becomes sweeter due to "mutual sensitivity."Spending a lifetime with someone no longer seems like enough.

You know the old saying: youth is wasted on the young. But if you let a twentysomething read your copy of "Life Gets Better," you can bet they'll feel a little jealous of you.

Author Wendy Lustbader's joyous words make every gray hair seem like a gold star and every wrinkle like a reward as she turns readers away from stereotypes and toward a new understanding. Even the so-called "negative" aspects of aging (senior moments, loss, incapacitation) are wondrous in Lustbader's eyes, which will give readers of all ages more reason to embrace elderhood.

If you're already of a "certain age," nothing in "Life Gets Better" will be of any big surprise but you'll enjoy reading it anyhow. If you're mourning your youth, though, or if you're eyeing age with trepidation, read it and relax. Like life, this is a book well-seasoned.

"Life Gets Better: The Unexpected Pleasures of Growing Older," by Wendy Lustbader, copyright 2011 by Tarcer, is 256 pages and sells for $25.95.

Contact book reviewer Terri Schlichenmeyer at www.bookwormsez.com.