Tag Archives: aging

Happiness in Later Life

happiness

happinessLong ago and far away – back when I was still an academic – I once took a long drive home from a conference with a colleague. It was a two or three hour drive, the kind where you start off talking about work and end up talking about your childhood. About an hour and a half into the drive, I turned to him and asked: “Are you happy?”

He looked at me and shrugged. “I don’t really do happy,” he confessed.

I knew exactly what he meant.

I don’t really do “happy” either. Content…animated…joyous…silly. I do all of those at different times. But “happy” feels more permanent. Like something you need to commit to. And I’ve never been good at commitment.

That Happy Feeling

Lately, however, having finally – 30 years in – fashioned a career for myself that feels right, I’ve started having this weird sensation in my body. I say weird, because it’s so unusual, I don’t recognise it immediately. I think it’s called happiness.

It’s like a friend of mine who – beginning therapy late in life after a divorce – confessed to me that one day in a conversation with her therapist, she felt this strange thing well up inside her. “And I was like ‘What is that?'” she recounted to me afterwards. “And then I realized: Oh, that’s an emotion!”

Damned straight, sister. I think a lot of us walk around for half of our lives carrying feelings inside of us that we don’t even recognize, possibly because we’ve forgotten they are there.

Lessons from Mindfulness

Which is why, among other reasons, practicing mindfulness is so useful.

If you’ve ever practiced any mindfulness, you’ll know that one of the key ideas it drives home is that we all have a “blue sky” inside us – a happy place where the clouds part and the birds chirp and the rays of sunshine fill our world. A lot of the focus is on accessing that blue sky feeling and realizing that it’s not something we need to reach for outside ourselves; it’s something that’s already there.

In my own case, I think I’d gone so long thinking about work as this stressful, difficult externalized thing that I’d forgotten that work could also be an extension of “happy me”… and fun. So when I’d deliver a workshop on public speaking, for example, and feel really great afterwards, I’d be like: “That’s odd; Why do I feel not just OK, but good?”

Escaping the Scarcity Mentality

It’s also the case that some of us just aren’t wired to be happy.

I grew up in a large-ish family where a scarcity mentality prevailed. If you got up from the dinner table to go to the bathroom, you risked having someone still the last potato off of your plate. So I think I have always approached life as if everything were a finite resource that was at risk of running out:  money, love, food, happiness.

Undoing that scarcity mentality has taken  a lot of work. One of the things that helped me most was reading Julia Cameron’s brilliant manifesto on creativity, The Artist’s Way. Cameron views creativity (which for her, comes from God) as a generous, supportive force rather than a punitive, miserly one. The idea is that whatever the origin of your creative process, it is an unending well of ideas and inspiration that never dries up. She encourages everyone embarking on a creative path to adopt this expansive view of how it works.

That has been s a struggle for me. Given my own hard-wired scarcity mentality, I come to the world with more of a zero-sum framework: if I get something, someone else loses something. There’s only so much to go around. But embracing Cameron’s “abundance” mentality with respect to creativity has enabled me to extend that idea to other areas of life.

As a result, I’m able to feel happier now without fearing that at any given moment, happiness might run out.

It’s still a work in process. Many days, I still feel off-kilter when I experience “that happy feeling.” But I’m learning how to live with it.

Image: Woman Happiness Sunrise Silhouette by Jill111 via Pixabay

Friday Pix: Recommended Reading For The Weekend

Every Friday I point you to some recommended reading around the blogosphere:

1. Here’s an incredibly well-written account of what it’s like to live through an earthquake from Ben Casnocha, who’s living in Chile.

2. In the department of funny bits about aging, have a look at this post on The Ten Geekiest Ways to Hide Your Age at The Boomer Chronicles. While you’re at it, have a look as well at this thoughtful take on what The Partridge Family might look like 30 years on at Surviving Middle Aged Widowhood.

3. More funny. Sara in Vermont shows us a laugh-out-loud British comedy sketch about a writer pitching an idea to an agent. (Hat Tip: There Are No Rules.) And here’s a very funny four-second video at Formerly Hot designed for those of us who remain technologically challenged.

4. Further to last week’s recommended reading on libraries and librarians, here are some stunning photographs of 20 of the World’s Most Beautiful Libraries, as well as writer Bibi van der Zee’s take in The Guardian on what it’s like for a true bibliophile to go a week without books.

5. Finally, because sometimes you really can’t make this sh!$ up, here’s my post on PoliticsDaily.com today about the new condoms being designed for – gulp – 12 year olds.

Follow me on Twitter.

Add to FacebookAdd to NewsvineAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Furl

Have Fun in Old Age: Tell a Joke!

I talked in Monday’s post about the importance of choosing a career that you both enjoy and are good at. But it’s also important, as we grow older, to have a good time outside of work.

Here’s a link to a website of people doing just that. It’s called Old Jews Telling Jokes and it’s just that.

What a fantastic way to spend one’s leisure time!

(Tip: Scroll down and listen to Bert Busch on “healthcare.” Warning: adults only!!)

AddThis Social Bookmark Button