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How to Live a Happy Life in Middle Age

“Oh no, I’m middle-aged!” It happens just like that. One day you are 18—invincible, supple, your whole life ahead of you—then suddenly, you’re 38. It feels like just yesterday I was dressed in all black drinking Pabst tallboys, skulking around campus with my cronies making mischief under the cover of night. Now, at 10:30 pm on a Friday, I am excited to crawl in bed and watch a movie—and that’s okay because life is fleeting.

The only thing we know for sure is that we are born, we pay whatever government we live under some type of taxes, and then we die. The reality of time becomes more evident as we get older. Then one day, we are no longer able to ignore the internal clock, winding down each moment of each day towards our inevitable end… where’s the happy life gone?

Can We Still Live a Happy Life in Middle Age?

When you are young, it’s easier to live life to the fullest. After all, #YOLO is the mantra of an entire generation of 20-somethings. The hope is to squeeze every second of the day for what it’s worth, creating an endless stream of priceless memories. Yet, as you age, something changes. It becomes easy to lose that grand view of life as a place of “boundless wonder” and get bogged down in the quicksand of bills, meetings, and production goals. The realities of adulting combined with the visible physical changes in the body can make anyone less bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

TV and movies would have us believe that the minute we realize that we are middle-aged, we will immediately fall into a state of midlife crisis. They would have us believe that the reality of change, evolution, and the fleeting nature of this precious existence would send anyone into an anxious thought spiral that could only be cured by suddenly getting a tattoo, buying a motorcycle, cheating on your partner, or moving to a new country.[1] Yet, the contrary is true.

It is possible to experience happiness and cultivate personal peace in your middle age. If you want to have a happy life in your middle age, here are a few things you should keep in mind:

1. Don’t Believe the Hype

Living a happy life is not something reserved for the young or elderly. There is no mandatory breakdown required when you hit 45. Experiencing a midlife crisis is not inevitable. What is inevitable is change and transition.[2] If you give in to all the negative propaganda about becoming “middle-aged,” you may rob yourself of the opportunity to have your own experience.

The adage is true: “You attract what you focus on.” If you’re focused on how bad middle age will be, that is what you will attract. However, If you are focused on self-improvement, cultivating personal peace, and fostering comfortable detachment, then you minimize the brain’s ability to ruminate on anything, let alone the idea that there is an inevitable impending crisis, nightmarishly triggered by age.

2. Learn How to Live With Change and Appreciate the Small Things

Everything is constantly changing. No day is like the last, nor will it be like the next. You have a choice: you can either rage against it or embrace it. The truth is that you don’t have to fear change or the unknown—neither is worth your fear. If you can learn to accept the mere fact that everything is constantly in flux, then you will be better able to handle life itself.[3]

There is an inevitability to the changes that humans experience as they age. Your physical appearance, your body, even your cognitive function will change over time. You watch the world around you “grow up,” and you’re once again given a choice:

  1. Obsess over the never-ending demands and constant change that comes with adulting;
  2. Ignore the obvious changes happening in and around you, like an ostrich with your head in the sand; or
  3. Accept and facilitate the change because you recognize that it is unavoidable, and you’ve begun to make peace with the inescapable nature of it all.

Change is like a river current, the more you rage against it, the more exhausted you become. No matter how hard you try to resist it, the current will always win and carry you away with it. However, if you are wise, you will use the current to your advantage. You will allow yourself to relax into the flow so that you can get to where you want to go quicker. Surrendering to the current of change is key to happiness during middle age.

Learning to appreciate the small things is an act of surrender and self-love. In his acclaimed book, “Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life,” Tich Hat Nhan, discusses the secret to cultivating personal peace through developing an appreciation for the ordinary everyday activities and moments that are often overlooked. Tich suggests that if you can get connected to the world around you through mindful acts—no matter how small—it will lead to an improvement in the quality of your daily lived experiences.

Surrendering to the magic of the present moment counteracts and neutralizes the fears that arise from focusing on the unknown.

3. Work Through Your Stuff So You Can Be Yourself—Unapologetically

The old saying “wherever you go there you are…” is truer today than ever before. No matter how much technology is developed, how much you travel, or how many hours a day you busy yourself, your mind is your constant companion.

You can’t escape your mind. If there are heavy things—things you still have not taken the time to confront, demons you haven’t slain, or a closet full of skeletons you haven’t opened—they could be a barrier to that peace and happiness that you deserve.

It’s time to retire your representative. Being brave enough to put in the work to get through your stuff is exhausting. When you begin that work of self-improvement in earnest, you will not have the energy to do anything but be yourself—unapologetically. There’s no need to hide your quirks, blur your boundaries, or compromise your peace of mind. There are no representatives required.

Final Thoughts

Everyone wants to experience a happy life at all ages. No one wants to feel helplessly doomed to experience a terrible crisis just because they become middle-aged. Just thinking of the ordeal it would be could feel like the darkest night you’ve ever experienced without the hope of light. But as William Ernest Henley suggests, you must embrace your unconquerable soul, take the reins of your life journey, and trust that you are the master of your fate and the captain of your soul.

You do not need to give your power away to society’s foregone conclusions about aging or unsubstantiated fears of the unknown. You have the power to dictate how your life will go, so don’t believe the hype, embrace change, appreciate the small things, work through your stuff, and just be yourself.

More Tips on How to Live a Happy Life

  • 20 Life Lessons Everyone Can Master By The Age Of 40
  • Midlife Crisis in Men: The Definitive Survival Guide

Reference

GoodTherapy: Midlife Crisis
GoodTherapy: Midlife Crisis
BBC: Why embracing change is the key to a good life

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If you’re feeling frustrated and stuck, it’s probably time to make some changes in your life. Otherwise, you’ll likely continue to feel dissatisfied. As Tony Robbins said, “By changing nothing, nothing changes.”

It can be difficult to make changes in your life, but if you want a different outcome, it’s necessary. Just as important as “what to do” advice to change your life is “what not to do; what to forget” advice.

Here are 15 things to forget if you’re not satisfied with your life.

1. Forget to ask permission

If you’re waiting for everyone in your life to approve of a change you want to make – whether it is starting your own business, changing careers, relocating, or adopting a new lifestyle – you will never change. Choose wisely who you seek approval from, and tune out the others.

Start today: Write a list of people whose opinion of your life should truly matter.

2. Forget negativity

A negative mindset only makes you feel worse. Practicing an attitude of gratitude; an attitude of thankfulness and abundance instead of jealousy and scarcity, will help you immediately feel more satisfied with your life.  According to Oprah Winfrey, “If you look at what you have in life, you’ll always have more. If you look at what you don’t have in life, you’ll never have enough.”

Start today: Start a gratitude list and hang it somewhere visible, such as your bathroom mirror. Each day, add something you are thankful for to your list. You will soon realize you have a lot of goodness in your life.

3. Forget the past

Maybe you’ve been fired from a job, have a history of broken relationships, or have been rejected repetitively when applying for graduate school. Guess what? Nobody cares. You might feel like the whole world has seen your setbacks, but they really haven’t. The world is huge; there are millions of people who have no idea what you’ve gone through. If the past is holding you back from the life you want to have, it’s time to work on letting go.

Start today: If you feel you’re carrying major baggage around, it’s time to make an appointment with a counselor, therapist, or coach, depending on your specific situation.

4. Forget procrastination

How many time-suckers do you give your hours to every week? Time is our most precious resource, and wasting it on mind-numbing activities can drain it quickly. If you struggle with procrastinating, work on setting yourself a schedule every day. Writing down your to-do items on your schedule will help ensure that they get accomplished, and also help you visualize where you’re actually spending your time and what you tend to procrastinate.

Start today: Write out a schedule of your tasks for tomorrow.

5. Forget about immediate gratification

Immediate gratification feels great now, but not so good long-term. Make decisions from your future. Think about who you want to be, and make today’s decisions based on future you. For example, if your long-term goal is to spend a year traveling the world, you’ll need to save some money for your future endeavor. When you are tempted to upgrade your cell phone plan or purchase a new vehicle, think about whether the future you, the one who is exploring the world, would like you to spend or save that money now. More than likely, you’d be thankful in the future for saving money now.

Start today: When you purchase something today, see if there is a more economical option, and save the difference for a future expensive goal.

6. Forget about cultural norms

It doesn’t matter if society says you should work 9-5 at a job you don’t really like and retire at 62. If that’s not the lifestyle you like, give yourself the freedom to break free from the norms.

Start today: Research one inspiring person who has paved his or her own trail.

7. Forget the time it takes

A goal that takes many years to accomplish can be overwhelming. It may be daunting, and take a long time, but if it’s something that’s truly your heart’s desire, that’s perfectly fine! Whether or not you move toward that goal, eventually you’ll be a decade older. If you want to be more satisfied 10 years from now, take steps today to move toward that goal.

Start today: Write down one large, 10-year goal you have.

8. Forget about toxic people

Toxic people can quickly drain your positivity and hope. As Jim Rohn, a businessman, said: “You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.” Spending time with toxic people might be a big part of your problem if you’re not satisfied with your life. If you want to be more satisfied, hang out with the following groups of people: people who are doing what you want to do, and people who have infectiously awesome outlooks on life. Surrounding yourself with positive, encouraging people can help you feel more happy and satisfied.

Start today: Think about the 5 people you spend the most time with. Is there a toxic person in your inner circle?

9. Forget about having everything planned out

If you wait until you have every detail planned out before you start a new endeavor, you’ll never start. It’s easy to get caught in analysis paralysis mode, where you’re constantly researching but not really making any forward progress.

Start today: Decide that you have enough information about one of your goals to actually start the project. You can study more of what you need to know along the way. Taking the first step forward is the most important step; without it you will never start.

10. Forget about blaming everybody

Harboring anger toward someone who has wronged you hurts you and holds you back from living the wonderful life you deserve. Forget about spending excessive amounts of time blaming others for your current life situation. It does you no good. This doesn’t mean you have to feel completely happy toward somebody who has been malicious toward you; it just means you aren’t going to let thoughts about that person continue to hurt you as the years go on.

Start today: Focus on the positives of the future.

11. Forget about material items

If you want to be satisfied with your life, there are ample studies showing that having more money and material items, past a certain point, do not increase life satisfaction. You really only need a few things to be content: safety, nourishment for your body, connection with others, work that is meaningful and stimulating to you, and a feeling that you’re part of something greater than yourself. You don’t need a million new toys or the latest gadgets. It doesn’t matter if your neighbors have the “best” everything. Get over it.

Start today: Begin a decluttering habit by cleaning out one drawer in your home. Decluttering can set you free from materialism, and also free your physical space and mind so you have more room in your life for what you love.

12. Forget your uncertainty

When you think about making a change in your life, your mind may start racing as you consider all the “what ifs.” Here’s the deal: there will always be uncertainty. You will never know the future. Being able to embrace this uncertainty and realizing you’ll have to take some risks to get unstuck is key to being satisfied.

Start today: Think about a big dream you have for your life. When the “what ifs” and doubts fill your mind (and they will!), replace those thoughts with the positive version of “yes, but what if…” with all of the great things chasing that dream could bring into your life. For example, if you want to start a business, and every time you think of it you immediately think “what if I fail?”, replace the thought with “yes, but what if I succeed?” and let your imagination run wild in that direction instead.

13. Forget changing everything at once

If you’re not satisfied with your life, it can be tempting to want to revamp your entire life all at once. But actually, choosing one habit at a time to focus on may be a better option. If you focus on changing one habit, one week at a time, you can analyze whether or not your habit change is working for you, and tweak it as needed. I frequently recommend working on exercising first; exercise is a mood booster and makes us feel empowered. As we challenge our bodies and improve our health, we feel like we can tackle other areas of our lives we want to change.

Start today: Choose one area in your life you’d like to change. Write down a small goal within that area for each day of this week (For example, bring a healthy snack to work instead of going to the vending machine every day). As you meet your small goals, you’ll gain the momentum to work toward larger goals (For example, fuel your body with healthy foods 90% of the time).

14. Forget about waiting for someone else to lead you

If there is something in your life you want to change, chances are, there are others in your life with a similar goal. Choose to be a leader and seek them out. Unsatisfied with your health? Find a buddy to cook some healthy meals with, or exercise together over your lunch hour with a coworker.

Start today: Think about something you’ve been wanting to do. Email your coworkers or friends and ask if anybody’s interested in joining you on your mission.

15. Forget about doing it alone

When you desire to change your life, find an accountability partner. This can be a family member, friend, personal coach, or mentor. Having someone to encourage you, inspire you, and keep you on track when you’re discouraged is extremely important.

Start today: Ask someone to be your accountability partner for a specific area in your life you’d like to improve.

Take away points:

It’s difficult to feel dissatisfied in your life. The good news is that your life is a story, and you get to write a lot of it. There will obviously be things in your life that are out of control, but practicing an attitude of gratitude, surrounding yourself with positive people, enjoying the ride of life’s uncertainties, and writing down your goals will greatly help increase your life satisfaction.

 

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