This article is by Jonathan Young, founding curator of the Joseph Campbell Archives.
There are some things that get better as we age.
On our best days, we have a kind of grace. We are works-in-progress and even in later life new qualities surface.
Some aspects are coming along faster than others. Other features come and go.
In general, certain emerging attitudes seem to unlock the rewards of getting older.
1. We can enjoy life.
- We are often playful and like to laugh.
- We are starting to move beyond the need to look cool. This leads to all kinds of fun, at unexpected moments.
Even our idiosyncrasies can be quite entertaining. When we hit a bump, we are sometimes bemused at the ridiculousness of life.
We also enjoy recalling the oddities we have witnessed. Some of them have been amazing. We’ve had enough disenchantment for a lifetime. We’re willing to be enchanted again.
2. We make the most of what we have.
- We are finally gaining some perspective and even a little wisdom.
- We have a bit more inner stability.
- We have the guidance of memory that often routes us around trouble.
- We are coming to terms with our limits, and mainly celebrate what we can do.
At long last, we seem to have a sense of who we are. We like ourselves more than we expected. We are getting better at trusting our own tastes and preferences. We appreciate the freedom to indulge in our interests, new and old.
A grateful heart lets us take pleasure where we find it.
3. We appreciate people.
Friends, acquaintances, and even strangers have unexpected qualities. Their faces are surprising in ways we didn’t notice before.
Also, we have decided that most people are good enough as they are. There’s no need to change anyone.
We realize it wouldn’t do much good to try, anyway.
- We appreciate those who have been kind to us.
- We have received a great deal of affection over the years, and such gifts last.
- We have the friendship and love of a lifetime with us always, even from the people who aren’t around anymore.
- We are thankful to have had good company on the journey.
4. We accept our flaws.
We don’t have to be perfect. On most days, we relish the diversity of our personalities. We can be flexible or stubborn, clueless or profound, depending on the moment. We tend to honor the delicate parts of ourselves.
A life with nothing to be sorry about would be rather uneventful. We are even starting to appreciate our past disasters. Old humiliations have become essential parts of a fine story.
We occasionally even feel a tender fondness for the ragged edges of our lives.
5. We are at home in the world.
- We enjoy our surroundings and often discover new secrets about familiar places.
Watching the explorations of small children and animals can delight us. The piece of cake we allow ourselves is especially delicious now that we don’t indulge often. The scent of a flower or gentle touch of a breeze seems more sensually rich than before.
- Sometimes, we glance around our home spaces to relish how our belongings reflect our personalities.
Perhaps we got more efficient in the pleasure department. Maybe, having had our share of difficulties, we just appreciate things more.
6. We have less to prove.
- We are learning to avoid comparing ourselves with others—or even with our former selves. It is a relief when we can begin to overcome feelings of competition.
- We can sometimes even deal with envy as a bad mood, not to be trusted. By focusing on our best personal qualities, and favorite current interests, we can find something fulfilling in almost every day.
- We might have more contributions to make, but don’t feel quite as driven to do something of great importance.
Most of the time, we are able to work and play for its own sake, not to look good in the eyes of others. Now that the need to show off has eased a bit, finding opportunities to use our talents is a manageable task.
7. We have strong priorities.
We are getting better at tending to our deeper yearnings. Now that we’re not in charge of fixing everything, we are free to devote our energies to neglected passions. It may be creative expression, reading, gardening, hobbies, or working on causes.
Certain projects virtually call us. It might surprise friends that we are so energized by these activities, but we feel no need to explain ourselves.
On most days, we use time in more immediate and present ways than ever before.
8. We accept our moods.
- We know that life is rich with nuances of emotion.
- We like being happy, but indulging in a little grumpiness has its rewards, too.
- We can usually let sadness come and go when it wants, without making a big deal about it.
Life has its ups and downs. No point getting frustrated when it won’t help.
- We avoid fretting about things, if at all possible.
- We are often able to be philosophical about life’s ordinary disappointments and tribulations.
When we can accept our feelings, a natural buoyancy usually restores tranquility soon enough.
9. We take time to reflect.
- We are able to ponder the inner life more than in the past. Allowing quiet to enter us seems to change the flow of time and make it larger.
- We find ways to open to the mysteries within.
For some it is meditating, for others it is knitting, still others find it during a daily walk. It is simply being receptive to something beyond our ordinary thoughts.
Partly, it is using the gifts of experience and long memory. Reflecting on fine moments in the journey reminds us of the riches of our lives.
Which point do you most relate to? What about Obi-Wan as a role model for getting older?
Psychologist and storyteller Jonathan Young served as the founding curator of the Joseph Campbell Archives. You can find out more about Dr. Young’s work at The Center for Story and Symbol.
“The Good News About Getting Older” summarizes the material in his seminar Invoking the Sage—Choosing to Age Well. A reading list for Invoking The Sage can be found here.
Images from the Wookieepedia.