Age and Mildness

They’ve discovered that older Americans are the happiest Americans. All kinds of reasons are given: fewer financial worries, more socializing, exercise to keep the body active, not having to go to work every day, the joys of grand-parenting, etc.  But the one thing that’s common across most socio-ethnic groups and cultures is the ability to accept life on its own terms, and in particular your life.

It came upon me one specific day in my 50’s. I was at a memorial service for a beloved teacher at my former high school. As I sat in the great dining room with its view of winter trees, I thought of the expectations I’d had for myself when a student there: to become a great psychiatrist, a published writer, to share my musical gifts in grand performances.

I had not achieved any of those, and I felt the all-too-familiar mantle of failure start to descend. But as I sat there listening, the sunlight seemed somehow cleansing, and I had a thought I’d never had before. I was a peer counselor in my civil service job, I wrote a company newsletter every month, and I sang in a fine chorus that gave performances all over the city.  If I removed my top level of expectation, I was doing exactly what I’d promised myself: helping people with their problems, writing and making music!

A weight lifted from my shoulders and thoughts of failure disappeared … except of course for those nights when one looks at everything through the wrong end of the happiness telescope… but as I grow older, those nights are fewer and fewer.

 

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