Green: Happy golden years

Renae Brumbaugh Green

I don’t want to get old. I want to stay young, vibrant, and healthy. But despite my wishes, my body is falling apart. I have some gray hairs, which you’ll never see thanks to my amazing hairdresser. My knees creak, and I desperately need an afternoon nap. I rarely get one, but I need it.

At least I still have all my teeth. 

I’m encouraged by a 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, overall happiness increased about 5% for every 10 years of age. And the happiest people? 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 include meeting with friends and family and attending church services, among other things. The study also showed that people in their 80s are twice as likely as those in their 50s 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’ve heard that a wise person learns from others’ 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 learn. By that time, most of us will have traded in our original teeth for a new set. A few stubborn folks will never be content. They’ll go to their graves miserable and bitter, angry that their lives didn’t turn out the way they wanted. But of course, none of you reading this would fit into that category.

Wouldn’t it be great if more of us could learn from those who have gone before us? If we could find true and lasting joy in our twenties, thirties, forties or fifties, and carry that with us for the rest of our lives?

We can. We just have to choose to be happy with what life has given us instead of being disappointed with what it hasn’t. 

So what if I never win a Nobel Prize? I have an amazing husband and 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 walk more.

Our attitudes really are a choice. I may not be wise, but I certainly don’t want to be a fool. Next time I feel down in the dumps, I’ll remind myself that I have options. And I’ll choose happiness. 

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.”

Renae Brumbaugh Green is a bestselling author and award-winning humor columnist. She lives in Stephenville with her handsome, country-boy husband, nearly perfect children, and far-too-many animals. Connect with Renae at www.RenaeBrumbaugh.com.