How Happy Are You?
On a scale of one to ten how happy are you right now? The question is general rather than specific. We all have good days and bad days, so I am asking if, on balance, you feel a degree of contentment with your lot and also whether you are happier now than at past times in your life. My experience of ageing has been surprising to me although perhaps it shouldn’t. I’d always assumed that I’d really mind the loss of my younger self. That I’d mourn for those excitements and opportunities that lay before rather than behind me. In fact there are few regrets and little sense that, given the choice, I’d opt to turn back the clock.
Yes, there are inevitable losses with the passing of time, but they are far outweighed by the benefits of wisdom, perspective and self knowledge which can only come with age.
I have been reading about a new book by a Harvard professor Arthur C Brooks, snappily titled “From Strength to Strength. Finding Happiness and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life” which has become a bestseller in the USA and is about to be published here. I sometimes find such ‘manuals’ patronising and inane, especially if written by a much younger person who imagines older age to be something it isn’t, but the 17 (!) proposals that Brooks suggests definitely have some merit, so I thought I’d share some of them with you. I have grouped the list into four broad categories: Mind; Soul: Altruism and Body.
A Happy Mind
Get a Grip on Unhappy Thoughts
I used to think that I had no control over my thoughts until I realised that I could consciously challenge the unhelpful ones. Worry, anxiety, dwelling on past regrets, negativity and pessimism can dominate our waking lives. Brooks suggests that we ‘delete, defer or action’ whatever is bothering us in order to live more in the present moment, rather than the past or the future.
Learn New Things
Self explanatory! I am currently exploring drawing and painting, something I’ve always thought I couldn't do. Lots of epic fails and some really satisfying successes. I’m also having a lot of fun whilst challenging my eyes and brain to think/see the world differently.
Expect to Feel Sad Sometimes
I know from experience that grief can be poleaxing. One minute just fine, the next spiralling into overwhelming sadness. But, certainly at our age, it’s also an inevitable part of life which needs to be acknowledged and given space and time. Gradually it softens into something more akin to poignancy than pain.
Embrace All Emotions
I get cross about quite a lot of things that are happening in the world at the moment. ‘Don’t get me started” has become my mantra in social situations because I can find myself on a very high horse! And I may be getting worse the older I become (!) Anger can lead to positive action (good) or a feeling of hopelessness (bad). I constantly ask myself ‘Can I change this? And if the answer is ‘not right now’ then I try very hard to be more Elsa and ‘Let it Go.’
A Happy Soul
Spend Money on Experiences
Excellent idea and I would also add ‘get rid of as much old stuff that you have accumulated as you possibly can.’ When I sold my French house last year I had to clear out 24 years of material goods. I had books dating all the way back to college in the 1960s, furniture from every place I’d lived in, including my parents’ house and all the things I’d acquired from French markets and ‘brocantes’ down the years. I drove away in August last year with a very few bits (in the boot of my Mini) that would either be useful or actually had real value (a couple of good paintings). The money from the sale will be used for trips like my recent painting holiday in Tuscany, not for more ‘stuff.’
After two years of weirdness and lockdowns, ‘challenge’ might be driving on a motorway again or taking the train to visit a friend. It doesn’t have to be climbing Mount Kilimanjaro! I can feel a strong pull to ‘safety’ which wasn’t there before the pandemic. I am having to fight it really hard and keep challenging myself because I can feel it making my life smaller and more constrained.
Amazed by Nature
I’ve just been listening to a radio programme about recovery after illness. In the old days people used to go to ‘convalescent homes’ which were invariably situated in gardens to aid the healing process. I live in a very built-up urban environment but have a small somewhat overgrown garden bursting with greenery and home to lots of bees which are loving the lavender and hordes of slugs and snail which are loving the hostas. Even this small patch of green is balm for my soul every day.
A Happy Altruist
Do Things for Others
I doubt many of you will need to be reminded of the benefit of this as almost every woman I know spends time selflessly helping her family, her friends and/or her community. I recently realised that I had no relationship with the youngest of my five grandchildren. Since her birth nearly six years ago most of my time has been taken by LFF. So she and I have started going to the local Polka childrens’ theatre for each new show. She loves it, I love it and we have become much closer. I think it makes both of us happier.
Don't be a Midlife Martyr
I guess this is the other side of the coin. Some women are so good at putting everyone else first that they begin to resent it. I’d say that learning to set limits and say no to unreasonable demands is essential for happiness. The issue will be guilt. If you have been socialised (as many girls are) into being a people pleaser, then you may find it impossible to set limits, so you become your own worst enemy and a put-upon martyr. My solution is to apply the ‘heart-sink’ test. If my heart sinks when I am asked to do something, I say ‘no thankyou’ and then refuse to feel guilt.
Get a Pet
Not one for me, but many studies show the health and wellbeing benefits of caring for an animal. Probably don’t need to persuade any of you of this, as those who love their cats or dogs will already know why they are so important in your lives!
A Happy Body
Don't Give Up on Sex
A bit patronising and unhelpful maybe? Older married couples with a good and mutually satisfying sex life won’t need to be told this and those of us without a partner through divorce or bereavement will likely say ‘If only’ or ‘I wish’. If I did meet a new man then a good physical connection would be important to me, but I’m not looking and am no longer overly bothered (or should that be ‘am I bovvered’?)
Movement All Day
Definitely one for me! I spend hours sitting down because all my most pleasurable pursuits involve being sedentary. I do stand sometimes whilst doing a jigsaw, and I should buy an easel for my new-found love of painting, but I hate to think of the hours I sit on my large bottom. I console myself that I still use my exercise bike most days, walk as much as possible and work with a personal trainer twice a week.
I have become more interested in this recently. The evidence that a healthy gut makes for a happy person is fairly convincing. This is all about feeding the healthy bacteria in our gut by eating a wide variety of fruit, vegetables and some fermented foods like yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut or kimchi. According to research, a happy gut sends the signal to your brain: “We’re relaxed, everything’s good.”
I have only rarely drunk alcohol in my life, so this is hard for me to write about without sounding po-faced and moralistic. I’m just going to note here that a high alcohol intake is one of the most powerful predictors of poor mental and physical health. Alcohol affects sleep patterns which affects mood and can be a gut irritant. You may feel better after a few drinks but these effects can be short-lived and can exacerbate low mood when they wear off. End of lecture on the evils of demon drink.
As they say at the end of Strictly Come Dancing every week. And why not? It’s one of the very best forms of exercise and will get you fitter than a trip to the gym. It's good aerobically because it raises your heart rate and it will improve strength, balance and flexibility. I also find that prancing around my living room throwing some shapes makes me laugh out loud because I look so ridiculous, but (I think) in a really good way. It also forms one of my principal objectives for when I reach 90. At my daughter Suzy’s 60th birthday party in 2038, I’ll be 90 and my oldest grandson Patrick will be 30. I intend to be dancing with him at that event in a joyous celebration of still being alive!
As Brooks says in his book: “Ageing is inevitable, how we age is not.” Yes, a statement of the obvious but at least he doesn’t then go on to suggest equipment, supplements and treatments that cost a fortune. In an article in The Times last Saturday, Alice Hart Davis wrote: ‘This is what it takes to look as good as me at 59”. Glossing over the hubristic overtones of the article, she suggests her own list of 17 things vital to her midlife well-being including the following two from her exhausting and exhaustive list: “Lying under the red-light canopy of the medical grade Flex MD Phototherapy device for 30 minutes whenever I can fit it in” (You can buy one for use at home for £1895) “Every 6 months: One intensive round of injectable toxin (Botox?) to damp down muscle movement and soften lines all over my face.” (£mega dough with, no doubt a top aesthetician)
Honestly - I’d rather get a dog.
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Tuesday 26th July
Teatime with Tricia - Lorne Blyth, Flavours Holidays
Flavours Holidays is a specialist ATOL bonded tour operator – offering quality cooking, painting, Pilates, language and photography holidays in Italy since 1998. Set in idyllic and unspoilt regions of Italy, guests have the opportunity to learn from local chefs and passionate, experienced tutors
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Just caught up with this Sunday's blog now Tricia; immensely enjoyable and pertinent as always, thank you. xx
Brilliant article ! Yet again. Maybe it's time you wrote another book !
Ah - how I needed this wisdom today - thank you Tricia.! Am in process of selling my beloved Prague flat which I bought 18+ years ago. In memory of my dad , a Jewish refugee who always longed for his home country. This little place was where I worked from after 'retiring' from teaching in Manchester at 58. became my husband's and my oasis to escape to, and now..... with me an EU citizen and my husband not, travel, age and not wanting to deprive Prague people of a home it's crunch time! So thank you for all the positive news in your post - I'll dance off to the beautiful city now and carry on smiling!
Hello Tricia, Thank you for your e mails, I am particularly enjoying this last one about ageing. Just wondering would you know of anyone doing a video for face yoga for seniors. As I am living in Ireland I have checked videos here they all seem to be for younger moms. I would love to do something like that for my sagging skin and double chin. I am 69 , so I am not looking to look 29 just something to tone my skin and reduce the sagging. Looking forward to hearing from you. Pauline
Hi Pauline - you might like to check out the Joy Club - www.thejoyclub.com. This is an online community group for retired people who are far from 'retiring' from life! They have done face yoga in the past.
I found a video on You Tube quite quickly by entering Face Yoga for Older Women: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m7xkKNByrRs. Hope that helps! Tx
Once again, Tricia, you've nailed it. Mind over matter is a truth. Loved the final paragraph, so many 50yr olds with trout pouts and overslung cheeks.