Perhaps inspired by the sense of rebirth that is tied up with Easter, my partner and I, both in our forties, were talking the other night about what exactly it is about the process of growing older that seems so pleasurable to us. I know that for many people, aging is filled with trauma and negative feelings. The conventional wisdom says that this negativity is fuelled by the sense that society doesn’t place a very high value on age. In our western world, we celebrate youthful vigour and youthful beauty. Those of us in the second half of our lives are frequently made to feel unattractive, unproductive, and redundant. We are asked to step out of the way to make room for the young and the restless.
Still, as my partner and I concluded, there are many ways in which life becomes both simpler and richer as you evolve through the aging process. It becomes simpler because after you have experienced a lifetime of disappointments, struggles, sorrows, and all the other outrageous slings and arrows that inevitably come your way, you get to the realization that there is not as much to be frightened of as you thought when you were young and scared of everything. When you’re young, everything seems so serious and weighty. When you older, you simply understand that the sun will always rise tomorrow morning.
Life becomes richer as you age because (hopefully) you have learned something very important: to open your eyes and really see the wealth that surrounds you. I am not talking about mutual funds and real estate investments. I am talking about friends and family. I am talking about the cornucopia of simple pleasures that fill each and every day, from the smell of fresh baked bread and newly cut grass to the joy of hearing about your niece’s latest soccer triumph.
Life also becomes so much easier because your experience has made you wiser. Hopefully you lose some of your inhibitions and neuroses. You can talk about things, like what pleases you in a sexual relationship, for instance, that would have been mortifying to your younger self. You finally begin to understand what is worth letting go of, and what is worth hanging onto for dear life.
Perhaps, if you’ve really paid attention to all those life lessons over the years, you may even have gained enough understanding of human nature and generosity of spirit to accept your own weaknesses and forgive your own failures as determinedly as you accept and forgive the weaknesses and failures of others.