A while back I wrote a post about my ever-growing concern that life has passed me by. I was never one to really think like that, so I’m not exactly sure what brought it on. I started college at age 40 and earned a Master’s degree, so it’s not in my nature to think I’m too old for that. And I must say I took some comfort from the 2016 presidential election in the fact that both the major party candidates were 70 years old. Still, it’s something I worry about sometimes.Late last year, I came across an article in The New York Times. It was part of a series penned by John Leland in which he followed the lives of six New Yorkers over the age of 85. Though the stories of these people included the things you might expect, such as money problems, medical problems, and loneliness, Leland also discovered something unexpected. These people in their final years of life had developed an enviable attitude in which they have been able to let go of unrealistic expectations and find joy in the things they can still do and which they find rewarding.
This, too, shall pass
These are folks who have been around long enough to know that, in life, there are good days and bad days. Leland says it finally hit him: “If you want to be happy, think like an old person.”The people profiled in this series of articles are living in the moment, appreciating the good things they have, and not dwelling on imperfections. They’re not sweating the small stuff and they’re not pining for the way things used to be. They are living in the here and now, because they recognize that’s all they really have.
As these people approach the end of their lives, they have important lessons for the rest of us. They have learned to tame negative thoughts and approach each day with optimism. They have accepted themselves the way they are, infirmities and all, and view themselves in a positive way. Too often we are prone to beating up on ourselves. But positive outcomes never come from negative thoughts.
Your life, your choice
Being happy is really a matter of choice. We all know people who seem to have everything, yet they are miserable. And most of us have known people who had very little, perhaps were disabled in some way, yet they always seem to have a smile on their face.
The elderly people whose lives Leland followed have made a choice. They can sit around and be miserable, waiting to die, or they can appreciate what they have and do what they can to ensure that their final years are happy ones.
We all have that same choice, no matter how many years we have left.