The Secret to Aging Well? Contentment.

April 17, 2022

The Secret to Aging Well? Contentment.

May 29, 2023

I loathed two verbs when I was younger: to be content and to be settled. Both of them felt like a compromise. They reminded me of something my radical 10th grade history class taught me: “Comfort breeds apathy.”

More recently, I’ve realized that happiness is the playing field of youth, and contentment is the reward of later life. I recently read this New York Times Op-Ed from an 88-year-old competitive runner whose perspective on life seemed to mirror mine. He acknowledges, “I’ve been far too slow to realize that how we respond to aging is a choice made in the mind, not in the gym.”

It reminds me of a recent MEA alum who, reflecting on the fact that he almost died before age 20, offered this wisdom about life to his cohort: It’s ALL a bonus! The truth is, when it comes to our “pursuit of happiness,” we don’t always appreciate what we already have or revel in it. We seek gratification rather than a practice of gratitude.

Social scientists have shown that we grow more satisfied with life as we age (based upon the U-curve of happiness research). It’s not because we’re faced with less problematic circumstances. Instead, we learn to roll with the punches and gracefully accept the unexpected assaults of life and not take them personally. Our passion for madness has subsided. And, in its place is an ability to welcome joy based upon the simplest gifts—a smile from a stranger, a new book on our bedside table, a thoughtful gesture from our friend or spouse.

Contentment is in our hands.

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