As we age, we’re admonished to live our best life — live and let go, be the thing that you want, and, my favorite, these just might be the best years of your life. That last item, of course, is my quote. I say it all the time.
We’re told all these things to improve the quality of our lives. Recognize abundance, be grateful, be the role model, listen rather than speak. All sound bites to greater happiness … right???
In spite of these platitudes dictating true joy and contentment, it’s what’s right in front of you that determines your level of happiness. If you’re going through the loss of a spouse, beloved pet, or best buddy, grief might overtake your life … for longer than is ideal. That grief flavors all of your days and cannot be ignored. I’d like to punch somebody when they say, this too shall pass. These are words that may not propel us to a better place if we’re in the thick of our sadness, fear, or angst.
Additionally, in spite of your best efforts, you can indeed feel like these might not be the best years of your life if your house burned during the wildfires or a government program you depend on to survive is threatened to be cut or eliminated? Does closing one door always lead to the opening of a better one? How many times are we directly or indirectly told to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and get on with it?
Easier said than done.
I think ignoring the obvious about how we’re truly feeling might be hurting us elders more than we acknowledge.
People want us to be happy; it makes them happier to think we’re handled, taken care of so they don’t have to see or deal with our unhappiness or dissatisfaction. Those people include our family. If they see our fear, insecurity, grief, they might have to try to do something about it … something they feel ill-equipped to resolve.
There IS hope.
It can be enlightening to look at things with new eyes and stop judging ourselves for the way we feel. We can be a little less stoic and stiff upper lip. Let’s stop putting ourselves in the “old age” box – the box that says your life is small (and shrinking!) and boring and slow.
I’m looking harder at getting in touch with what I’m feeling, acknowledging those feelings – at the very least to myself – and then acting accordingly. No more faking it or faking it ‘til I make it. No more masking my feelings and hiding actions to make someone else feel better about me.
Now that you’ve identified and are acknowledging your true feelings in the moment, what do you do?
I’m not suggesting you let it all hang out. I’ve seen too many people so desperate to let the pain out they feel it’s okay to dump or vent on anyone and everyone over and over again … all the time. Does this really help? Will I feel better after I throw up all my junk on the next friend I meet for lunch who can’t resolve any of my problems? Logically we know the answer is “no,” but we do it sometimes anyway.
I’m talking about one or two friends you have agreed to share with in a safe environment and then to reciprocate by listening to their issues. Sort of like a meeting … once a month, get together to be open and share what’s really in front of you, preventing you from reaping the most enjoyment in life right at that moment. And then moving on as best as possible until the next time. Creating a community like this can be helpful.
Also, therapy or a skilled counselor can’t hurt. Talking to someone who can guide you down a constructive path rather than just let you blow off steam without improving anything will go a long way to identifying feelings and helping you to deal with them.
Let go of the death grip on “must be happy, must be happy all the time,” and learn to be a little more comfortable being uncomfortable. Our worlds might be transformed.
Life can suck. Life can particularly suck if you feel there’s not a lot of time left to get it right. You’re going to hear me say again sometime in the future that these just might be the best years of your life – see if that’s how you’re feeling at that moment and don’t freak if you don’t.