Society often sends the message that old age is just a waiting room for the end—either elderly people are weak, sick, and irrelevant, or that old age is all about meaningless recreation. You start digesting these messages, and you may feel yourself disappearing. As you get closer to retirement, or you’re forced to retire, the media invite you to imagine your life post-50 or 60 as one of leisure, where you no longer have to work toward a goal, put out effort, or grow as a person.
As well as write books and articles, I travel nationwide teaching other therapists how to use anger as a therapeutic tool. I also work as a therapist in Santa Monica, and I see many clients trying to decide what their life should look like post-50. I know from experience that those who see their future as one without goals, effort, or growth are much less happy than those who see their coming years just as abounding with possibilities as their previous ones.
If you see old age as a time when you stop doing and stay still, you won’t get to experience all the joys of being human: discovering, developing, expanding. There is no age at which we must abandon our dreams and surrender our possibilities. Putting a salaried occupation behind you doesn’t mean giving up purpose in life or a role in the world. If you feel exhausted, or bored, or have a negative attitude, might that not mean what you need to do is reinvent yourself?
People are living longer than ever before. And those are often healthy years, having discarded the unhealthy habits that once held you back. As you grow older, you can contribute to life in a new way, one that is true to who you are today. That is the gift of the present moment. It is fresh and alive with opportunities that aren’t bound to the past.
Here are four surefire ways to increase your happiness as you age:
1. Don’t wait one more minute. Act now!
If there’s something you’ve always wanted to do, what are you waiting for? You have gained wisdom and experiences over the years; there’s no better time to move forward on projects that once seemed impossible. Although you will eventually face hardships as your body ages, the present moment is a gift, full of opportunity for benefits and greater happiness than you’ve ever experienced before.
2. Get to know yourself and accept your truth.
To decide what you want your life to look like, you need to know yourself and accept your deeper truth. Spend time mindfully meditating on this question: What do I want out of tomorrow? This isn’t about what you thought your life would look like post-50 when you were 20, and it’s not about what other people want you to do. This is about exploring who you are and bringing you home to yourself.
3. Free yourself of the things that are bringing you down.
To create your best possible life, you need to let go of what no longer serves or uplifts you, so you have the energy to pursue what does. Life after 50 can mean slipping the harness off career and family demands and letting yourself run free—free to go after the interests and experiences you couldn’t pursue when you were preoccupied with the needs of others.
4. To use your longevity bonus, get clear about what you want out of life.
There are many avenues you can go down to pursue what you want, what you’d love. Many people in their 50s and 60s invest in career opportunities or new hobbies not to achieve material success, but to achieve meaning. If you carry regrets from things done—and undone—in your earlier years, you have an opportunity to heal relationships and to make your life whole. Think of your healthy years past 55 or 60 as a “longevity bonus.” Spend your bonus on doing what you love.
Accomplishing your goals for life after 50 may entail more than sheer effort. It requires a willingness to discover the way, which may lie outside of what you currently know. The road to happiness often requires curiosity, openness, and flexibility. But, remember, you’re not over the hill; you’re at the top of the mountain. Whether you’re 18 or 88, every day is a fresh opportunity to create life anew.