Friday, May 9, 2008

Happy Golden Years

I don’t want to get old. I want to stay young, vibrant, and healthy. But despite my wishes, I am watching my body fall apart, before my eyes.

Yep, I have found a couple of gray hairs. (But you’ll never see them, thanks to my very talented hair dresser.) And my knees creak. Not only that, but I am finding I desperately need an afternoon nap. I rarely get one, but I need it.

At least I still have all my teeth.

But I am encouraged by a recent study, performed by sociologists at the University of Chicago. It seems that, despite the stereotypical belief that old people are lonely and miserable, the golden years really are golden.

In this study, people ages 18 to 88 were polled periodically from 1972 to 2004. It seems that, while there were ups and downs in happiness levels, the overall happiness level increased about five percent for every ten years of age. And the happiest people? You got it! The 80 and above crowd.

A separate study showed that 75 percent of people ages 57 to 85 are engaged in social activities at least once a week. These activities include meeting with friends and family, and attending church services, among other things. The study also showed that people in their 80’s are twice as likely as those in their 50’s to do at least one of these activities weekly. And social activity is directly linked to happiness.

The key finding in these studies is contentment. It seems that with age comes an acceptance of one’s life. With age comes the wisdom to be thankful for the good things, instead of dwelling on the bad. With age comes objectivity, and the ability to let go of past disappointments in favor of the good stuff.

I once heard it said that a wise person learns from other people’s mistakes, a smart person learns from his own mistakes, and a fool never learns. If this is true, why aren’t more of us wise? Why aren’t more of us catching on, before we reach our eighties, that life just is what it is? We really can make the choice to be content. We don’t have to trek through decades of disappointment and bitterness and misery before we find happiness. We can have it right now.

Unfortunately, too many of us have to make our own mistakes again and again before we will learn. And by that time, most of us will have traded in our original teeth for a new set. A few stubborn folks will never learn to be content. They will go to their graves as miserable as they ever were. But of course, none of you reading this would fit into that category.

Wouldn’t it be great, though, if more of us could learn from those who have gone before us? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could find true and lasting happiness in our twenties, or thirties, or forties, or even fifties, and carry that with us for the rest of our lives? We can. We just have to make the choice to be happy with what we have been given in life, instead of being disappointed with what we don’t have.

So what if I never win a Nobel Prize? I have an amazing husband and two beautiful children. So what if I never hit the New York Times bestseller list? I have family and friends who love me, a roof over my head, and a car to drive. So what if I can’t afford gas for that car? Just think how healthy I’ll be when I start walking more.

Happiness really is a choice. I may not be wise, but I certainly don’t want to be called a fool. I will learn from my mistakes, and from others’ mistakes. I will do my very best to be content with what I have.

Just as soon as I get my kitchen remodeled.

Philippians 4:12 “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.”

4 comments:

Carol-Ann. said...

:)

Came over to say we've had a good laugh at our house about your once-had cat named "Dog" ... as learned from comments on Jeanette's blog!

Renae said...

Hi Carol-Ann! So glad my real life is so entertaining. It comes with living with a stand-up comic.

Oh, wait! No, he's a pastor.

Same difference.

:-) LOL!

--r

Britta Coleman said...

That Philippians verse is one of my favorites. It has been both a reflection of my current circumstance, and a prayer.

Great post.

Renae said...

Thanks, Britta! Yes, it is one of my favorites, too. It is one of those verses that is lovely to read, difficult to live out, don't you think? :-)

Blessings to you, my friend!

--r