have noticed that I’m happier and funnier than I’ve ever been in my life. It so surprises me that I sometimes wonder if I’m lying to myself. Are these expressions of happiness and humor covering up something dark and shadowy? I routinely stop and ask myself that question and the answer is always, “No. I think you’re genuinely happy.”
I find it odd to be as happy and content as I am because these days I have less with which to work to make happiness happen. For instance (and for me), post-menopause is accompanied by health issues that, while not life threatening, do threaten to shorten my life. I don’t have the energy, stamina, or oomph I once had to get done the things I set my mind to. These days my body has to catch up to my thoughts, which happens a couple of hours into the day. And my body needs to slow down and begin preparing for bed earlier than I’m used to, which means I have a less flexible body and fewer hours in the day with which to work.
Another thing I experience as “lack” is the discovery that I am no longer relevant to much of society. On the basis of age alone and unless they are family or friends; people in their twenties, thirties, and possibly early forties don’t give a hoot about my opinions or experience. Sometimes even when I am giving a young adult my full attention and verbalizing appreciation for their opinion or experience, what I have to offer to the conversation falls flat because my attention isn’t required in their lives.
And then there are commercials. In addition to commercials targeting a younger population, when someone my age pops up in a commercial it’s either an ad for fiber or the female my age is a hippy grandma who is apparently the bane of her children’s existence. Living as sustainable a lifestyle as possible in Asheville, NC, I find that particular satire does sting a little.
So with these age related minuses, why am I so happy?
1.) Because my friendships are golden, I no longer spend time with people or organizations in order to be considered a nice person. I spend time with people I want to spend time with who want to spend time with me because we love and care about each other.
2.) The health issues put age related things like laugh lines, wrinkles, and age spots in perspective. Youthfulness isn’t about looks, it’s about how you feel. Putting attention on increasing flexibility and ease of movement makes me fret less about things like silver in my hair.
3.) In 1997 the stars aligned and grace poured down bringing me spiritual teachers who helped me understand that I didn’t need to be afraid of my feelings. They taught me how to embrace them without being a victim and without blaming others for them. For the past seventeen years, taking responsibility for my feelings has been a constant contribution to my happiness.
4.) PMS is OVER! I no longer spend two weeks out of every month monitoring my emotions and emotional responses to people, places, and events for fear of overwhelming others (or myself) with needs and limitations that flare half of every month. And I no longer suffer for three – five days with debilitating cramps that pain relievers barely helped.
5.) The best part of PMS followed me through post-menopause. Those two weeks every month were when I was most aware of needing to set boundaries. Having a supportive personality, I was a “doormat” to too many people and organizations throughout my young adulthood, I am no longer anyone’s doormat and I no longer “suffer fools.” When someone is rude, condescending, or manipulative with me, I stop them in their tracks without remorse. I’m very clear that if someone’s relationship with me suffers because of their arrogance or immaturity, that’s their issue. My issue is setting healthy boundaries. As a former doormat, this is huge in the happiness department of life.
6.) My relationship with extended family members is in a real good place. Less and less do I need to work out childhood issues with anyone. And when I catch myself projecting my stuff onto others, I catch it pretty quickly and process it on my own so the current relationship can be healthy.
7.) I’ve always lead an active life style, but this past spring I finally embraced weight lifting with Super Slow Weight Lifting personal coach, Abby Cain, at Rock-Bottoms, Inc. – a Super Slow studio here in Asheville. In spite of various health issues, Super Slow weight training increases my strength every week. It is awesome!
8.) My spiritual path is a big reason I’m happy. My relationship with God has always been the ground of my sense of connection to others, to myself, and to the earth. It sets me up to be spontaneously grateful for every good thing, person, circumstance, insight, and expression of love and grace in my life. I am most comfortable in my own skin when I feel gratitude and my spiritual walk keeps me there.
9.) My step-children are doing well. I don’t have my own children but I remember the summer I knew I’d become a mother. When we entered each other’s lives, having been a step-child (and step-grandchild), I knew how I wanted to be with them. I wanted to be their friend and a caring, compassionate adult in their lives on whom they could depend. I did not need, nor did I expect to be a parent-figure. As both were young adults, friendship was a real possibility. And it worked. But there was one year when I discovered I’d crossed a threshold becoming a full-fledged step-Mom. They each courageously faced challenges that year that meant late night and middle-of-the night calls caused heart-stopping breath-holding till we knew they were OK and/or how we could help. Their safety and happiness matter to me in a way I’d have only known had I had children of my own. And now there are grandchildren to love!
10.) We’re downsizing. Joseph and I have decided we can wait for the day when we have to let stuff go from our lives or we can be proactive now and benefit from the lack of attachment. Downsizing isn’t easy. It is slow-going and challenging. Every item we pick up and consider giving away or selling is something that has meaning and memories attached to it. I doubt we’ll opt for a complete Zen decorating makeover; but making life simpler, in the long run, makes our lives happier.
11.) Professionally, I am embracing my desire and need to create with the written word. I’ve set aside personality assessments and what I “should” do based on gifts and talents and, instead, have given myself permission to follow my heart’s desire, which is to write.
12.) Of course, my husband, Joseph, is the biggest and best gift in my life for the past sixteen years and he will continue to be that gift for as long as we both live (and likely beyond that). Our love, friendship, and shared spiritual path give our lives meaning and create the space for happiness and humor to play between and around us.
Getting to this place of happiness didn’t come overnight. It isn’t a guaranteed aspect of aging. I spent about five years being quite anxious about this aging process, fearful I was feeling much older than I should and what that implied for the future, hating the wrinkles, age spots and the changes in my hair, struggling with existential angst and a dark night of the soul that lasted a good couple of years. Somehow, those twelve things listed above fell into place in such a way that grace was able to move and lift the anxiety with which I’ve struggled.
Now that I’ve thought about it and made the list, I sure will attend to these things, though. Perhaps at any age but for me right now, happiness boils down to healthy relationships and letting go of attachments. Happiness has found me and I intend to continue to make her feel welcome!