As we age, things start to go downhill: bad knees, high blood pressure, not being as needed by the world we more recently inhabited, and slowly tallying the friends and acquaintances who have passed from our lives. From that you would assume as we age our happiness decreases. But for most of us that is not true!
Most of us wonder about how to be happy, and also what life will look like as we age? Our cycle of life is such that, for most people, are pretty happy when we are young, for lots of reasons. But then we slog and grind our way through our 30s to our 50s, dealing with unrealized goals and avoiding uncomfortable truths about ourselves. But as we approach 60 all indications are that we get happier, become more satisfied. I am 63, and have dealt with life’s realities, like everyone. Oh, and I accept them. Ha! Maybe that is what they mean when they say “we get wiser as we age”. Giving up control over things we cannot control, came to me late in life. But, I now find that comforting and have more peace.
It turns out that at that time in our lives, we start to shed a lot of our illusions and disappointments and start appreciating what we have and where we want to make a difference — literally forgetting about the Joneses or the regrets of a musical, or artistic career never pursued. Instead we turn our eyes to those most important to us, like family, friends, and others in our circle of loved ones.
It’s really easy to get caught up in our here and now, and divert our eyes from the distant horizon. Let’s face it, we’re all pretty busy doing what we are doing. It’s also easy to wonder what life is all about, and maybe feel like we kinda missed out on what we thought, at the time, would make us happy. What I think we really have done is not see what is most important, and not focused on those things. And that just takes time. But the nice part? As you age, you will probably be happier and more content.
That crossover in life expectations reminds me of what we experience in the financial markets all the time. The former high-flying stock markets bottoms out as earnings expectations eventually catch up with reality… or some off the ‘thing’ like Hawaii is notified of an incoming ballistic missile (on a day the market is open). Many of the disappointed retirees sell out, and those remaining are satisfied just keeping up with inflation, many without even realizing it.
Our lives are not investments. But expectations matter. The evidence on the midlife valley in life satisfaction is overwhelming. If it doesn’t hit you smack-dab between the eyes, consider yourself lucky. We spend so much time planning our financial lives: saving, working, spending. We do little to plan for life’s inevitable shocks, whether they be in middle age or in retirement. Just knowing about this little talked about reality of life will remind you that you are not unique, and there is a reason for optimism as you emerge from the valley of disappointments of the 40’s and 50’s into the sunshine of the 60’s.
So what all this means it that you can literally plan on being happier as you age, with the understanding that your 30s to your mid-50s may be disappointing in many ways. But you probably won’t care about that once you are through it. You’ve got good things ahead. As I always say, “bolder not older”.