RD&T’s contributing writer, Andrea Brandt, Ph.D., shares 4 keys to increase happiness as you age.
Through your youth and early adulthood, you accumulate many varied experiences, both good and bad. You make false starts, turn corners, try new things, meet new people, and every day seems to abound with possibilities. By age 50, you’ve likely accumulated the wisdom needed to place yourself on more solid ground with a clearer sense of where your life is going. And then, in our youth-obsessed society, you’re suddenly labeled “old.” Everything changes.
Society often sends the message that old age is just a waiting room for the end—either elderly people are weak, sick, and irrelevant or that old age is all about meaningless recreation. You start digesting these messages, and you may feel yourself disappearing. As you get closer to retirement, or you’re forced to retire, the media invites you to imagine your life post-50 or 60 as one of leisure, where you no longer have to work toward a goal, put out effort, or grow as a person.
As well as write books and articles, I travel nation-wide teaching other therapists how to use anger as a therapeutic tool. I also work as a therapist in Santa Monica, and I see many clients trying to decide what their life should look like post-50. I know from experience that those who see their future as one without goals, effort, or growth are much less happy than those who see their coming years just as abounding with possibilities as their previous ones.
If you see old age as a time when you stop doing and stay still, you won’t get to experience all the joys of being human: discovering, developing, expanding. There is no age at which we must abandon our dreams and surrender our possibilities. Putting a salaried occupation behind you doesn’t mean giving up purpose in life or a role in the world. If you feel exhausted, or bored, or have a negative attitude, might that not mean what you need to do is reinvent yourself?
People are living longer than ever before. And those are often healthy years, having discarded the unhealthy habits that once held you back. As you grow older, you can contribute to life in a new way, one that is true to who you are today. That is the gift of the present moment. It is fresh and alive with opportunities that aren’t bound to the past. There are four keys to increasing your happiness as you get older:
1. Get to Know Yourself
To decide what you want your life to look like, you need to know yourself and accept your deeper truth. Spend time mindfully meditating on this question: What do I want out of tomorrow? This isn’t about what you thought your life would look like post-50 when you were 20, and it’s not about what other people want you to do. This is about exploring who you are and bringing you home to yourself.
2. Let Go of What’s Bringing You Down
To create your best possible life, you need to let go of what no longer serves or uplifts you, so you have the energy to pursue what does. Life after 50 can mean slipping the harness off career and family demands and letting yourself run free — free to pursue the interests and experiences you couldn’t when you were preoccupied with the demands of others.
3. Get Clear About What You Want
There are many avenues you can go down to pursue what you want, what you love. Many people in their 50s and 60s invest in career opportunities or new hobbies not to achieve material success, but to achieve meaning. If you carry regrets from things done — and undone — in your earlier years, you have an opportunity to heal relationships and to make your life whole. Think of your healthy years past 55 or 60 as a “longevity bonus.” Spend your bonus on doing what you love.
4. Act Now
If there’s something you’ve always wanted to do, what are you waiting for? You have gained wisdom and experiences over the years; there’s no better time to move forward on projects that once seemed impossible. Although you will, eventually, face hardships as your body ages, you are gifted in the present moment with the opportunity for greater happiness than you’ve ever experienced before.
Accomplishing your goals for life after 50 may entail more than sheer effort.
It requires a willingness to discover the way, which may lie outside of what you currently know. The road to happiness often requires curiosity, openness, and flexibility. But, remember, you’re not over the hill; you’re at the top of the mountain. Whether you’re 18 or 88, every day is a fresh opportunity to create life anew and increase happiness.
For more tips on how to increase your happiness at any age, visit my website and sign up for my newsletter.