I have been reading one of those annoying articles by a 45 year old who likes to think she’s on the cusp of older age. It’s called “When will I start caring less about everything?” And the person who wrote it, journalist Emma Jacobs, believes that this ‘enlightened state is the biggest perk of middle age’ but is still waiting for it to hit. Well, Emma, I have some very bad news. You may have to wait for at least another twenty-five years until you are 70, which is about the age that I first realised that I was more carefree and happy than I had been since I was a young adult.
Why? Because I had finally reached a state of accommodation with my demons. I was finally free from those worries and responsibilities typical of midlife. And I had finally figured out what really matters in life so that I could stop ‘sweating the small stuff.’
There is a theory that happiness in life is U shaped. You start and end your life on a high, with a nadir in midlife. This has been confirmed by economist David Blanchflower in a study published in September 2020, in which he states: “A large empirical literature has debated the existence of a U-shaped happiness-age curve. This paper re-examines the relationship between various measures of well-being and age in 145 countries, including 109 developing countries….The U-shape of the curve is forcefully confirmed, with an age minimum, or nadir, in midlife around age 50.”
I have quoted the resounding confirmation of Blanchflower’s research because I wanted to share with you the ten reasons why I am happier now than I have been since I was about twenty years old. The happiness-age phenomenon that I am experiencing would appear to be universal, so I am hoping that I won’t be accused (as sometimes happens) of being smug, complacent and self-satisfied. Maybe I am all of those things, but I would seem to be in the company of millions of others around the world who have found that, with age, has come a welcome level of peace, contentment and real happiness.
At 75 I have all the following things in a different perspective:
My Weight. The preoccupation with how much I weighed started at college when I was about 19 years old. I got it into my head that I was fat at 10 stone and 5’ 7” tall and that I should weigh no more than 9 stone. Cue twenty five wasted years of binge-starve eating. Happiness was entirely governed by my relationship with my weighing scales. Being me, I turned my neurosis into a business for 12 years by running my own slimming club, but eventually I stopped punishing myself for my abject failure to reach a weight my body could never attain, and threw away my scales. Since the age of about 50 I have never once weighed myself and couldn’t tell you what I weigh now, and I am happy to tell you that I am totally ok with that. I consider myself to be neither fat nor thin. I am just me-shaped.
Latest Fashions. Time was when I would pore over magazines in order to discover the latest trends. I cared about looking modern and ‘with-it’ and was horrified that others might think of me as dowdy and old-fashioned. These are no longer my preoccupations when it comes to dress. Paramount for me now is comfort with (hopefully) a touch of style. Why torture your body with ‘shaping’ underwear? Why wear shoes that pain your feet and give you blisters and bunions? Why wear clothes that ‘dig-in’ to your waist the minute you eat something? I now concentrate on my makeup and hair, add an interesting pair of earrings and then choose clothes which are the perfect colour with my cool-toned skin and the perfect shape for my 75 year old body.
Sweating the Small Stuff. By our age, most women have had some tough times. I have had my fair share of grief, money worries, depression, anxiety and panic attacks. I have also lived through the worst year of my life after my special granddaughter India was born. At the time it is very hard to be sanguine about the suffering; you just want it to end. And, eventually, it does. Maybe it doesn’t end so much as change into something you can accommodate and learn to live with. Nowadays I have a much better sense of proportion when something happens. There really is very little point in sweating all the small stuff (and most of it is small stuff).
Children and Grandchildren. I have loved being a mother and grandmother. I have certainly tried my best to be a good one. However I am also happy that my offspring are no longer my direct responsibility. Bringing up children is one of the hardest and also one of the most rewarding things that we humans have to do. I now have all the pleasure and none of the pain of the relationships I have with my two daughters and five grandchildren. I fervently hope that it's several years before they have to morph into a parental role in order to look after me.
World Affairs. It often feels as though the whole world is descending into complete and utter chaos. Wars, drought, famine, floods, climate change, nuclear threats, conspiracy theories, misinformation, disinformation, unhinged power mongers. I could go on. And yet, there is strong evidence that, during my lifetime, violence due to inter-state conflict has declined markedly. Also, I can’t remember a time when there wasn’t some major world event to worry about. I have finally reached a stage where I accept that such worry is futile. I have a single vote every 4-5 years, and, apart from personal responsibility and choices, that is the full extent of my power to change what is happening.
FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). There was a time when I thought that everyone was having a much better time than I was. I used to hate being at home on a Saturday night which is when we’re all supposed to be out socialising, eating, drinking, dancing, canoodling and generally having lots of fabulous fun. Maybe that is an apt description of your life, right now. And, if it is, I say good luck to you! However, I no longer envy you as I would have done 20-30 years ago. I do still love going out, but my happiness is in no way related to the number of invitations I have lined up on my mantelpiece.
Look Fabulous Forever. For a few years, LFF became a huge responsibility. Other peoples’ livelihoods depended on me. I didn’t want to let anyone down, whether they were customers, employees or investors. There were times of stress and worry. As the business grew it became clear to me that I needed to recruit and promote certain people and delegate more of the day to day running of the business to them. This has now happened to the extent that I am left with all the pleasure (making videos, speaking, writing blogs, testing new products) and none of the day-to-day nitty gritty. LFF continues to give me a sense of both purpose and satisfaction, with almost no hassle whatsoever.
Attracting a Man. When did I decide to take myself ‘off the marriage market’? When I was nearly 60 and had a bruising encounter with an apparently eligible and attractive man who turned out to be a cheat and a liar, virtually a con-man. I had a few months of unhappiness before deciding ‘never again.’ It has not been hard to stick to my guns. I feel relief rather than regret that I will end my days as a very happy singleton who loves living alone.
Small Pleasures. My experience of ageing is that it teaches you to love and celebrate the smallest of small pleasures in life. I only drink two cups of tea a day, but I make sure that I savour them both. I love my comfortable bed and newly enlarged bedroom. I like being able to walk to a Curzon cinema where I spend many happy hours. I love the Film Club that I run every fortnight, and I look forward to writing this blog every week. Sometimes there are much bigger pleasures like a birthday (mine is on Christmas Day) or a holiday abroad, but I no longer depend on them for a sense of enjoyment and satisfaction.
Time. Gandhi said ‘live as though you will die tomorrow but learn as if you will live forever.’ I’m sure that very much younger people assume that being old is terrible because you know that you have nearly run out of time. If so, they are very wrong. As Gandhi advised, I try to live every day with as much enjoyment as possible, whilst staying curious and engaged with what is happening in the world. I know that one day, for me, it will all come to an end, but in the meantime I will just get on with the rest of my life without giving it much thought.
To this list I could add a couple more very major reasons for being happier now than I was in my 40s. The absence of both menstruation and migraine. My perimenopause threatened to derail my life completely. Firstly, my periods became excessively heavy with embarrassing consequences and constant fear and worry, especially when working. Secondly, menopausal hormone imbalances triggered crippling migraine attacks every fortnight when I would spend the whole weekend in agony in a darkened room, vomiting every couple of hours. A wonderful consultant called Professor Peter Goadsby saved my life and sanity by taking me seriously and prescribing HRT, daily pizotifen and zolmitriptan to ward off acute attacks.
So, dear 45 year old Emma Jacobs, to answer your question ‘When will I start caring less about everything?’ I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that the ‘enlightened state’ you so earnestly seek will definitely come to you. The bad news is that you may have to wait anything between twenty or even thirty years before you reach it!
So, patience, Emma, patience. I can absolutely promise you that, in my experience, it really is worth waiting for!
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Friday 24th November
Film Club: The Colour Purple
Available on Amazon Prime
Watch the film beforehand and join us for a group discussion!
Day: Friday 24th November 2023
Time: 4 pm
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