Our self-knowledge expands.
At 57, I know who I am. I can’t be shaken from my own point of view the way I could when I was younger. I find that my knowledge of myself grounds me in tough situations. I would never want to be in my twenties again. As one woman in my book says, “I’ll take the body, but I wouldn’t want the life.”
We become more adept at relationships.
As we get older, we bungle our relationships less and less. Getting better at communicating makes a huge difference, as does the ability to gauge our own and others’ needs more accurately. Bonds with old friends keep deepening. With our intimate partners especially, we can take responsibility for the parts of ourselves that are hardest to deal with – because we finally know ourselves well enough to do so.
Our decision-making improves.
It is such a relief to know a thing or two about life. Gradually, we accrue the hard-earned benefits of hindsight. We look back at our earlier mistakes and misadventures, seeing where we went wrong and what we could have done differently. Then we get to weigh current choices on the basis of experience rather than conjecture.
We feel more confident.
Youth is full of self-doubt and insecurity. We have to grope to find our way. It can seem that everyone else has their act together, but what’s really going on is that we keep our most troubling doubts concealed from one another. By the time we reach midlife, we realize that we each have our share of travail. The anxiety from comparing us to others finally eases and our sense of inner security increases.
Our courage multiplies.
It is so much easier to take risks, once we get through hard times and prove to ourselves that we possess durable strengths. We gain a much greater grasp of the mixture of luck and diligence required to live a good life. We know so much more about what contentment looks like and how to seize it when we can. Often, a wonderful kind of freedom and courage emerge from this consciousness.
We become more vivacious.
In my late twenties, when I began to spend most of my professional time with elders, I was astonished at how lively so many of them were – once I pushed aside my negative bias. I had been making the common mistake of measuring life according to physical standards. The real action is interior. This is where all the transformative discoveries reside that cannot be seen externally and to which we tend to have little access until we have experienced them ourselves.
Our spirituality deepens.
As we endure losses in getting older, spiritual matters begin to take precedence over petty concerns. Bereavement often grants us an overarching perspective. The soul enlarges. We develop a burgeoning interest in matters that have little to do with our external strivings – questions of meaning and legacy. The progression of this inner dimension is exciting because it is limitless and completely our own.
We become more generous.
Most of us find that the need to contribute to the greater good becomes more intense as our focus on self-promotion fades. Our sympathy towards others widens as we realize we are all essentially the same in facing the vicissitudes of life. The more we express interest in others, the more compassion flows back to us in an ever-enlarging circle.
We slow down and see more.
To slow down is to become more alive. The quality of attentiveness becomes more important than the quantity of experiences. We can make the ordinary magical by seeing more of it and peeling backs the layers that we missed when we were hurrying through. This is why someone inching along with a walker may have a radiant look.
We live fully in the moment.
The older we get, the less prone we are to putting off what we really want to do. We are more open and curious because we are more aware of our mortality. We realize that this is it – right now – our one and only life. We are less willing to squander our time. We pay more attention to the relationships that really matter to us and to the experiences that we want to embrace as fully as possible. Unexpected pleasures become abundant.