When I was in senior year of high school, I created a time capsule with my best friend. We were feeling very nostalgic one day, and decided to predict each other’s futures, put it away until that future point, and open it together then. The future point we picked was age 27–ten years ahead, which seemed like such a distant future. I actually couldn’t imagine myself as being “so old”–but figured that at that stage in my life, I’d have most things figured out and be in complete control of my destiny.
Not unsurprisingly, most of the things we predicted for each other turned out to be hilariously off the the mark. (Yet we continue to do this every few years or so–just such a funny tradition). As a teenager, you think that every year you get better, rise higher, and *get older* the way you go up a grade in school.
But the nature of aging isn’t really like that: some years you grow in leaps, other years you feel stalled; sometimes you feel like you’re doing the right thing, other times you’re even more confused than when you were just a kid. Sometimes you feel independent and fearlessly in charge of your life; at other times, you feel vulnerable and powerless, like you might’ve felt as a kid. And some years, you’ll fee super “old,” only to actually feel *younger* at a later point. As odd as it is, now at age twenty-eight (and a half) I feel older than I did at twenty-two, but somewhat younger than I did at twenty-six and twenty-seven. Do you ever feel that way?
Aging isn’t a slow process of becoming “settled” and losing your youth. For a long time, psychologists and the general culture believed that there is a U-shaped dip in happiness as we go through our lives, where we peak in happiness in youth and adolescence, and experience a mid-life crisis, until we find happiness again in old age. But new long-term study by the University of Alberta researchers reveal that this is not the case: happiness rises between 18 and through your thirties, and that people are generally happier in their early 40s than at age 18.
While reasons for that growth in happiness with age might be more individual than generalized, here’s how age has added to my happiness–and why I feel good about getting older.
1. You’ll know what you want in a romantic relationship: One of the benefits of being older is that you have now had enough experiences to know what you want–and what you can’t stand. At seventeen, for instance, I had no idea what I liked/looked for in a guy–and quickly fell into a serious relationship with the very first boy who asked me out in college. Looking back, this fellow had none of the qualities I think are essential in my companion. (Charm, paying attention to me, devilish wit, intellectual chemistry, ambition, worldiness…Just in case you’re wondering.) If someone who isn’t the right fit approaches me now, I wouldn’t reciprocate–not because I’m snobby or rude, but because experience and self-awareness afford you that kind of freedom. On the other hand, knowing what you’re looking for means you’re also able to experience really great things romantically.
2. You become friends with your parents: This is one of the best things about growing older. Of course, you probably still won’t tell your parents *everything*–but you understand them better, and they understand you too. Basically, you get to that super amazing place in your relationship with your parents where you feel less defensive and more compassionate about the way you treat each other. You’ll ask advice from your parents without feeling sullen, and spending time with them feels easier and less hierarchical, too.
3. You get much better at saying No: Whether it’s a friend you’re feeling on-the-fence about, a romantic interest you don’t want to encourage, or a complete stranger who is acting rude, you learn to say no without apologies. Again, not to be cruel, but because you haven’t all the time in the world to waste over people who just don’t get it.
4. You feel comfortable with your looks. Specific ideas you had as a teen about what size your thighs should be ideally or what body part you could change if you could, become so alien once you’re older. For one, you realize your ability to be loved and love has zero relationship to those things. For another, you get busy enough taking care of survival, personal fulfillment, and loving and being loved by family, friends, animals, and all the members of the zoo that is your life, that you don’t have time to obsess over bodily hang-ups. At one point you also realize that you actually look better, more beautiful and happier, during those times when you don’t obsess.
5. You start to enjoy the fruits of your hard work: I can’t say I’m at the point where I can just sit back and relish all my amazing accomplishments (does that point ever really come?), but at some point, you do get a moment now and then to look around and feel good, respected, and accomplished about the life that you’ve created around you, out of your imagination, will, fortune, and hard work. And that’s not something you can enjoy at seventeen or twenty-two.
What about you? Do you feel good about getting older?
Also see: Best Life Lessons from My Twenties
Photo: Brooke Cagle via Unsplash