Are you happy? Do you want to be happy? I don’t mean happy ALL THE TIME, but are you generally happy, and dare we say content, with your current life? The good news is that happiness can be achieved!
The Happy AARP Crowd
A number of studies have documented the relationship between age and happiness. If you are in your 50s and beyond – the AARP Crowd – your sense of well-being and happiness increases with age. Considering that we live in a youth-oriented society, you would think us older folk would be crotchety and unpleasant. Well, that stereotype, like so many, is flat out wrong! I’m in my 50s and am surprised at how blissfully happy I sometimes feel. Meanwhile, my mother turns 85 this year, and if anyone is the model of healthy and happy aging, it’s mom. She seems to be constantly on the go with her friends. Mom has taken on challenges with zest and has blossomed into a remarkable person. Aging has its advantages.
The Happiness Project
I grew up thinking happiness was something that happens to us. Happiness came from a winning lottery ticket, a surprise date, a really funny movie. Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project made me realize that I’d had it all wrong! (You can find Gretchen’s latest work here.) I was responsible for creating my own happiness. So I began to think more about what makes me happy, and it came down to memories and the five senses – the memory of enjoying a wickedly good laugh with a friend on the historic streets of Prague, the smell of fresh mowed hay (especially alfalfa), petting my old lovey dovey cat Smoke and hearing her purr, the feeling of crispness in the air as autumn leaves begin to fall. And creativity was at the top of my list too, whether it’s writing, painting rocking chairs, or making a piece of art out of a chunk of wood.
As I reflected on the things that made me happy, none of them had to do with money and the stuff I owned. Well, that’s not completely true as Prague required money. But really, everything that made me happy had to do with experiences, nature, and creativity. Not things. Once I realized the simplicity of it all, I purposely traveled in the direction of happiness.
The Ultimate Motivator
Several years ago, my colleagues and I were gathered into the conference room, where we learned about the death of one of our co-workers, our friend, who was only in her 50s. She had died in her sleep. We were shocked at the loss of this healthy young woman who always lent a hand and shared a smile. This was my wake up call. Why am I waiting until I retire to have fun? Do I really have to let work drive my life? So when I saw that there was a new class of recruits to become certified Virginia Master Naturalists, I signed up! When my friend told me she was going to Peru, I asked if I could tag along! Somehow, the person who always plans and organizes has become spontaneous. I kinda like the feeling.
The Happiness Glitches
I’m not happy all of the time, for sure. And there are glitches that hold me back and sometimes make me forget that I have a role to play in my own happiness. Here are my particular challenges:
- People…especially family! I worry about the people I love and have perpetual hope that things will turn out alright. But at some point, I can’t fix other people’s problems. I try, not always successfully, to carve out my own life and to accept the fact that it’s not my job to change someone else’s behavior or attitude.
- Time and energy. It’s nearly impossible to be happy when everything is centered on deadlines and work loads seem unmanageable. Periodically, this happens to me because of the nature of work. I admit, my health goals often fall by the wayside during these times of peak demand. Fortunately, my life returns to normalcy afterward and I can once again carve out happy moments.
- Poor health, even when it’s self-induced. I’ve experienced enough episodes of poor health, including chronic pain, to know that it consumes every moment of every day. During these times, I find that it’s important to become even more aware of the small things in life that still bring pleasure – birdsong in the morning, the way the shadows play off the trees, the smell of soup simmering in the crockpot. I’m also less happy when I’m overweight and out of shape, which is why living a healthy lifestyle is so important.
Final Thoughts on How to be Happy
Write down the things that make you happy, even if they seem minor. Do they fit into common themes? Perhaps travel is your thing? Or baking bread? How about going to football games? Or playing cards with friends? Once you’ve identified your happy places and activities, research ways you can participate in them more frequently. Will it cost money? This is a good time to think about the dream fund mentioned in how to become financially independent. Do what makes you happy!