Back to Bliss

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Years ago, gerontologist Ken Dychtwald found an eerie letter in his mailbox. "Do you feel that you've lost control of your life? Are you struggling to balance your work and family responsibilities? If so, then Dr. Ken Dychtwald can help you." Accidentally, a company that makes self-help tapes had sent him an ad for a set that he himself had recorded. Dychtwald laughed off the incident. But two years ago, as he prepared to celebrate his 50th birthday, Dychtwald realized that he really did need his own advice.

In his 1977 book, Bodymind, Dychtwald wrote that seniors could control their health through techniques like yoga. Now a doctor was telling him that his cholesterol level, 440, was more than double the healthy level. In the 1989 best seller Age Wave, Dychtwald warned that baby boomers were not investing wisely for retirement. Now he had just lost $20 million in equity through a failed business venture. Also in Age Wave, Dychtwald predicted boomers would become a "sandwich generation," simultaneously caring for their parents and their kids. Now he found himself leaving his daughter and son behind in California as he flew to Florida, where his mother had become ill with cancer.

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"It was a terrible year," he says. "I hit a wall." When he received an invitation to join AARP, he wanted to burn the letter the way some people burned their draft cards during the Vietnam War. What finally pulled him out of his gloom was a call from his brother, who is two years older than he. "Your greatest treasures in life are your wife and your kids," Alan Dychtwald reminded him. And bit by bit, Dychtwald began to remember the ideals that launched him on his career.

After earning a Ph.D. in psychology in his 20s, Dychtwald had left his native New Jersey for California, where he became a leader of the human-potential movement. In those days, he wanted nothing more than to share his ideas about how baby boomers could enjoy a long and healthy life. The books in which he did so became best sellers, and soon he was being interviewed by Oprah Winfrey and conferring with world leaders.

In his 30s, he put his ideas to work as a consultant for companies such as American Express and Chrysler that were trying to redesign their products for aging consumers. But after watching these companies make money on his ideas, he thought he should be capitalizing on them himself. In his 40s, he launched marketing and publishing ventures. It was just before his 50th birthday, when the most ambitious of these businesses failed, that he realized how the pursuit of fame and fortune was hurting him.

"A few years ago," he says, "I was on the cover of Inc magazine. People who had been on the cover keep in touch with one another as a kind of informal club. And I realized that a lot of these people are a mess. They're on their fifth marriage, or their livers are failing, or their kids are drug addicts. And I said, 'You know what? I may not turn out to be a big financial success, but I'm going to go back to what I love.'"

For the past year, Dychtwald has taken his own prescription: attention to family, health, meaningful work and ample play. Now he's careful to exercise almost every day. He has lost weight and, with medication, lowered his cholesterol to a safe 130. His broad shoulders, flat stomach and leonine head of dark hair look like those of a younger man. Recent vacations have included river rafting with his son, 10, and shopping in New York City with his daughter, 13. On one trip, he and his wife Maddy, 49, renewed their marriage vows. The change is remarkable, she says: "When I married him, he was a striver. He saw himself as a star. Now his life is about making a difference."

His most recent book, Age Power, takes on such civic-minded tasks as saving Social Security. He expects the next decade to be his best ever. Says Dychtwald: "I'm trying to be a wise man instead of a wise guy."