One of the great discoveries as we age is how much better life gets, once we have started mastering the skills of living well. Acknowledging these gains and recognizing the specific advantages that accrue gives them even more heft.
1. Our confidence grows. Youth is a time of searching and insecurity, trying to figure out how to live, and as time passes we gather more and more certainty about our own aims and preferences. We become less interested in comparing ourselves to others, having slowly gained an internal compass.
2. Our self-knowledge increases. An expanding awareness of our strengths and vulnerabilities helps us endure difficult times with more equanimity. We are not buffeted around so much by other people's opinions about the choices we make and our overall sense of what we should do with our lives. It becomes a pleasure to stand our ground in tricky situations, not out of stubborn pride but because we finally know who we are.
3. We get better at relationships. One of the most significant skills gained with age is employing what we have learned about ourselves in how we conduct our relationships. With intimate partners, especially, self-knowledge allows us to be more open about our weaknesses as we try not to repeat the same mistakes we've made in the past. We appreciate the loyalty of true friends more and more, having less patience for superficial relationships.
4. We handle decision-making, the crossroads of life, with less frenzy. Gradually, the hard-earned benefits of hindsight start to add up. We see where we went wrong earlier on, allowing our past mistakes to inform our present situation. We can assess the pro's and con's of complex choices on the basis of our lived experience, rather than having to guess about the implications of taking one path rather than another.
5. Our courage becomes nimble and diverse. Having gotten through hard times and come out the other side, we are less afraid of adversity. We know how crucial it is to seize contentment whenever we can find it, rather than standing at the sidelines waiting for the best opportunities. We know that life consists of compromises, mixed with a bit of luck and risk, and there is no time like the present.
6. We become more interested in others. Generosity begins to occupy a central place in how we regard the value of what we do. As the decades pass, we find that we need to contribute to the greater good more than our own self-betterment. We become more sympathetic toward others, having found that we all face the same fundamental predicaments.
7. Our spirituality deepens. The search for meaning goes on throughout the lifespan, but in our later years such questions become more urgent and begin to take precedence. Meanwhile, petty concerns recede to their rightful place in the background. Going through bereavement wakes us up to the spiritual domain in a manner that shows us what really matters in life.
8. We become more vivacious. The real action in life is interior. The body slowly deteriorates, but the soul expands. When we are young, we look at elders and cannot see the exciting developments going on inside. The most lively people are those who have death in sight and so are determined to live life to the fullest.
9. We slow down and see further. The radiance that can often be seen in elders comes from becoming more alive. Once we stop hurrying so much, we develop a quality of attentiveness that adds new dimensions to our experience. It takes time to accept the body's imperative to slow down, but once we do we are able to access the quadrant of life where ordinary freedoms are cherished.
10. Unexpected pleasures become abundant. Awareness of our mortality conveys immediacy in everything we do. We no longer squander our time, because time is the currency that has become more precious. This is our one and only life, and we recognize this more keenly than ever before. Our receptivity to joy is wide open.
Adapted from: LIFE GETS BETTER: THE UNEXPECTED PLEASURES OF GROWING OLDER, Tarcher/Penguin, 2011.