Getting older is great!
I am indebted to my friend Lesley Lyle for the idea of this – she’s writing a book on it and I’ll let you know when it’s ready, and these are MY thoughts not hers, but she started me thinking about the fact that it might not be such a bad thing to be getting older.
We assume it’s all bad to get older – body falls apart, mind slows down, fear of the end approaching, etc. But maybe not!
You’ve probably seen the happiness curve which shows that the lowest point is about 45 years old and from then on the happiness curve goes up again. And research ahs shown that 70 is the happiest age!
Why might this be….??
1 – Seeing the bigger picture about life
As we get older we become increasingly aware that our years on this Earth are limited, so we become more discriminating about how we use our time. We no longer waste time on unimportant things, which is tempting but unsatisfying when we’re younger. We think about what really matters and we say no to more of the irrelevant stuff.
We spend more time with a smaller, tighter circle of friends and family, we pay more attention to good news than to bad news, and we seek out positive encounters and avoid negative ones.” In other words, aging helps us let go of the trivial and focus on what is most important. “Don’t sweat the small stuff”, …and nearly everything is small stuff!
2 – Knowing yourself
As you go through life you realise that you’re not perfect, but that maybe it doesn’t matter that much! Everything from exam results to the size of your nose, from a hole in your favourite sweater to whether you get to be Marketing Director of The Pacific Region, things that mattered SO much when you were young, are just irrelevant! That’s a really liberating feeling, because you can let go of the endless hamster wheel of status and competition and media-induced inadequacy, and focus on the things that DO matter, like your family and your health and your friends, and a nice glass of wine in the sunshine, looking at a nice view.
3 – Assertiveness
Linked to this is freedom to be yourself – realising that all you can be is yourself, and to be happy with that, and to have the courage to do it. If other people don’t like the way you are then it’s maybe time to get different friends or a job that suits you better. As you get older, and the remaining time gets shorter, you realise the value of time and you are less inclined to waste it. You do what YOU want to do, and that makes you happier. And this isn’t the same as selfishness – what YOU want to do might well be making other people happier, listening to other people rather than talking, helping and giving rather than taking. But it’s on YOUR terms, it’s YOUR life. I think it takes a certain amount of age to realise this.
In fact the research shows that as people get older they get less obsessed with self, and more focussed on others: we get better at altruism as we get older, and this makes us happier.
4 – Emotions in control
When you’re young the emotional roller coaster is SO intense – OMG that girl likes me!! Oh NO, she doesn’t!!! This is kind of exciting, but hard work, and overall not always a net positive. As you get older you feel more emotional stability – in fact you learn to recognise your emotions and control them, which is great news when it comes to negative emotions.
Negative emotions like sadness, anger and fear become less pronounced as we age as opposed to the roller-coaster drama-filled younger years. With time, we hone qualities like self awareness and self-control that contribute to overall happiness.
For example the death of my third dog was nowhere near as traumatic as the death of my first dog, because I’ve learned about the cycle of life and death, and that you can celebrate every dog in your life. I didn’t love the third dog any less, in fact maybe more, but still, I’ve got better at moving on. There WILL be a fourth one!
But your emotions don’t seem to get jaded – I can enjoy a book or a film just as much, maybe more than ever now. Dogs, kids, beautiful music, art – there are many things that touch me more than they used to. But they make me happy even when they are making me sad, because I know they are doing it to me and the self awareness allows me to harvest the maximum happiness from every experience – I didn’t have this detachment and self awareness when I was younger.
As we get older I think we get better at appreciating the good things and better at rising above the bad things because you can see them for what they are.
The research shows that stress and worry gradually decline from teenage years and reach a low point when a person turns 85 years old. In 2010, researchers at Stony Brook University analyzed a telephone survey of hundreds of thousands of Americans and found that people over 50 were happier overall, with anger declining steadily from the 20s through the 70s, and stress falling off a cliff in the 50s.
5 – Getting your life sorted
I takes a lot of years to you know yourself – you know what makes you happy and what doesn’t, and you gradually work out the best things to do as you go through your life. You gradually sift through your friends, finding the ones that work best for you, you gradually get your relationships honed so they are as good as they can be. You gradually find out where you are most comfortable living, and what spare time activities make you happy. The process off adding things, trying things, and dropping things, gradually sifts your life into being the best mix for you. This takes years, and means that things are generally better in your world as you get older.
The same goes for work – by the time we age to a certain level we have found the type of work that we feel is fulfilling and satisfying. We’ve either got promotion, or tried it and decided we don’t really want it. Maybe it’s taken several careers to find the thing we really love. I’m certainly much happier now, doing training courses, than I was as a factory manager! And in some cases ages gives us more realistic expectations – running the world no longer seems such a great plan. A cynic might say that we get past the disappointment of not being the most brilliant person in the world, but I don’t think it’s that – I think we learn that ‘careers’ are basically a bit of a con!
Adults near 85 years old are even more satisfied with themselves and their life than they were at 18.
6 – More Time
Your kids are grown up, your house is sorted, you’re on top of your work – at least this is what we hope, and in many cases it’s true. So we have more time to spend on what we want to do, and happiness doesn’t come from what you HAVE, it comes from what you DO. Although having said that, most older people are doing better on the HAVE side of things as well – pay tends to gradually increase on average through your career, the house might be paid off, you’ve worked your way up the car ladder, you’ve collected most of the things you want over the years from nice clothes to a quality mole wrench, from the plants in your garden to maybe even a house abroad. And for many people there’s the joy of grandchildren – I read that children are happiness-neutral (all the time and money and pain involved! And the fact that if you DON’T have them you get a life of freedom etc) but I bet GRAND children are happiness-positive, because you get it right the second time around, you savour them, …and you can give them back when you’ve had enough!
7- Learning continues though life, so as you get older you know more.
Kids, teenagers, and young adults know NOTHING! It’s easy to take for granted how many things you know, from experience. Everything from when your car is about to skid to what to do about a horrible boss. All this knowledge has to help with making the right decisions and leading a better life, as you get older. Even subtle things like your ability to express yourself, and the ability to know what other people are thinking or feeling, improve as you get older – most things are a function of how much learning and experience you have had.
So – don’t worry about getting older, it’ll be fine!
Onwards and upwards!!