By Brianna Wiest
We don’t age by years, we age by experience. Yet, we’re largely under the impression that life gets worse as it goes on – the “golden days” we’ve attributed to being our budding adolescence, yet generally speaking, that is the most difficult and uncertain time of life, both biologically and socially.
Research shows that we become happier as life progresses, and that the loss of “childlike wonder,” or, the magic that makes youth what we want to hold onto, is not a natural occurrence, it’s a learned behavior. That is to say – we can just as easily reclaim it.
Happiness increases as we age because we get better as we age. We develop and master the cognitive functions required to sustain happiness, we settle into a sense of who we are, we accomplish a few things, and we evolve past our erratic, emotional adolescent selves. Essentially: life doesn’t get better, we become better equipped to deal with it. Here, all the reasons why you have the rest of your life to look forward to, whether you believe it or not:
1. As you get older, you build the cognitive functions that happiness requires: gratitude, objectivity, problem-solving.
The more you see of the world, and the more you experience yourself within it, you learn that there’s a lot to be grateful for, things exist separate from our perception of them and most issues are resolvable if only you decide you’re committed to resolving them.
2. Science says you’re generally more content after you have a few major life achievements under your belt.
Some research argues that 37 is the happiest age: we’ve done enough that we feel accomplished, settled and as though our identities are validated, but not so much that we don’t have anything to look forward to.
3. As you age your attitude shifts from “What can I do” to “what can I enjoy.”
Your objective is less to prove or establish yourself, and more to enjoy your life and be present within it fully.
4. If life becomes more difficult as time goes on, it indicates you’re not learning, evolving or adapting in some way.
There is not actually a point in time when life gets “easier,” we just become better equipped to deal with things that we didn’t know how to deal with prior. Likewise, people who do not develop those tools do find that life gets more difficult as it goes on, not because circumstances are more challenging necessarily, but because from their perspective, they are unable to handle them well.
5. You’re most emotionally erratic as a young adult.
The brain circuit that processes fear, the amygdala, develops ahead of the prefrontal cortex, which is the center for reasoning and executive control. This means that adolescents have brains wired for an enhanced perception of fear, and underdeveloped ability to calm or reason with themselves.
6. We are taught by experience that nothing external we assume will bring us happiness actually does.
Very often, the goals we choose to pursue as adolescents have some deeper link or connection to believing we’ll be more loved, accepted or admired for having achieved something “great.” It’s only after we have one or two of those things under our belts that we realize we’re not fulfilled in the way we hoped to be. As we age, we learn to separate our desire for emotional fulfillment from our false ideas of how we could achieve it.
7. Bonds you build with people over years cohere into emotional “safety nets.”
This is to say that as time goes on, friendships deepen and relationships evolve, you begin to choose your own family and bond with them in more and more intimate ways. This, of course, translates to us as a feeling of “safety,” and genuine inclusiveness, which is a primitive desire as well as a key component of happiness.
8. You know how to get through things – because you’ve done it before.
You know you’ll survive the death of a loved one because you had to teach yourself how to mourn and move on a few times before. You know you’ll get through a financially sparse month or a difficult breakup, because you’ve done it before. Your past challenges gave you the tools to deal with your current, and present ones.
9.You move from assuming that your time here is a guarantee to seeing it as a gift and an opportunity.
Friend’s parents pass on. Friends pass on. People get ill. Tragedies occur that remind us our time is not a given. Nobody expects that they’ll die young, but they do. You may project your ideal life to carry on until 95, but that will not necessarily make it reality. When we sober up about how delicate and precious life is, we are fully present in it.
10. You learn about who you are, and learn how to create a life that person will enjoy.
The portals of self-discovery are endless and not always obvious, and they don’t end after your mid-20s. As time goes on, you learn your habits, your preferences, what works and what doesn’t, what you want more of and less. That self-knowledge is invaluable, and makes up the building blocks of a life well-lived.