As age came knocking at my door, much of the drama that youth thrives on slipped quietly out the back door bit by bit. Once all that emotional and mental chaos departed – and I really wasn’t the biggest accumulator of emotional and mental chaos I knew – I got a clearer view of pretty much everything. I began to see this thing called Reality. My younger self hadn’t taken a lot of notice it – it just didn’t seem as exciting as the drama of the big dream, so it had to quietly wait for its more rambunctious cousin, Drama, to run out steam, before getting its turn in the spotlight. It took me a while to understand that it was the grasping hold of reality which lead to manifesting the dream, not the drama. Trying to grasp the dream first was a slippery business, but the drama of trying was exciting, and was fodder for a life of always wondering if something better was just around the corner.
One of the many thing the school-of-getting-older has taught me, is that “something better around the corner” can keep us on the go for a long time, without achieving a whole lot from chasing it. It’s not to say that that we shouldn’t have dreams or want something better than we have. But when that something better is based on what other people tell us is better, because we hardly have a feckin clue ourselves what ‘better’ means for us personally, we can chase it for a long time before we realise that it will always be around the corner. When a person is a bit sucky at being young – you know, low self-esteem and high anxiety (not looking at anyone in particular – oh, all right, looking at me back then) – then anyone else’s opinion of what better means creates a lot of personal mind shifts. Seeing as there are a lot of people in the world all with different opinions, that’s a lot of mind-shifting going on about what ‘better’ entails.
The trouble is, I didn’t want to slot into the parameters of what was deemed an appropriate life for women. But I wasn’t a very good rebel. I was a pretty average person, who just so happened to also be a bit off-mainstream. If one is going to be off-mainstream, it helps to have a big personality, maybe some talent at just about anything, and some grab-life-by-the-balls confidence to go with it, otherwise you just bloody confuse everyone. (As an aside – I was going to say “grab-life-by-the-vagina confidence” just to keep things female-centric, but it kind of sounded a bit Donald Trump). No-one knows what label to put on you when you’re just a bit off. They do sense, though, that somehow you’re a bit off, and a slightly awkward fit in the world, but not enough to be very noteworthy. So, I tried on a lot of opinions for size, and dreamt a lot of dreams to see if one of them might fit me.
Then I got older, and started getting brutally honest about the reality of who ‘me’ was – massive warts and all, some of which may stay for life – and got a lot happier. The reality of our circumstances may not make us very happy, but getting real about them and real about ourselves, is pretty much the only escape route from our circumstances that doesn’t rely on mind-altering substances. Getting real doesn’t always feel great – the dream can feel a whole lot better – and we don’t always get to change the things we’d like to change. Sometimes the real us is not the us we think we’d love to be, nor will it get us the life we think we’d love to have, and we might not get to hang out with the people we think we’d love to hang out with. The only thing we can count on is that getting real brings on change, and that inevitably includes a change of dreams. We can probably count on a few doses of disbelief and disapproval from others, too, because people don’t generally like us changing on them.
Research tells us that the happiest ages in people’s lives are twenty-three and sixty-nine. I don’t remember too many details about being twenty-three, because I was twenty-three and doing twenty-three year-old stuff. I kind of remember that I was quite happy, though. Of the latter years, there’s a general ‘happy’ age span between sixty-five and seventy-nine years old, with sixty-nine apparently being the sweet spot. Admittedly, from a youthful perspective, it doesn’t look all that hilarious to be that age. When I was young, I don’t remember seeing my older rellies having a whale of a time. But then I was measuring their happiness according to my own happiness meter, and there’s just a chance that it might not have been in sync with theirs.
I’m not quite in the happyhappyhappy age bracket yet, but I’m not too far away. I can get why this could be a pretty nice time of life, in spite of being creakier in body and mind, and closer to the big check out. By this time, there’s a good chance that we will have embraced our reality, looked at the ticking clock, looked at our choices, and made a decision to manufacture our happiness in whatever way works for us. It seems that this is not an uncommon decision to make, when our choices are limited. Conversely, too much choice gives us angst, and tends not to make us very happy. That’s what social psychologist, Dan Gilbert, reckons in a TED talk he gave back in 2004 (link below), and he doesn’t appear to have changed his mind much on it since then.
For a start, embracing reality can be lot of owning up to what we just don’t like. One of the things I discovered when I began being brutally honest about who ‘me’ is, was that I feckin hate gardening. So now I don’t do it. Getting brutally honest saved me from continuing with a lifetime of servitude to the garden gods. Now my garden is full of evil things, and I can live with that. I do mow the lawns, because I’m incapable of having total disorder in my life, but the gardens make their own rules about order. Possibly, I might not be quite so cavalier about its wild ways if I lived in the road-front unit on my property, instead of the back one. I love gardens and appreciate the love and dedication that go into making them beautiful and productive, but I don’t want to be the one doing that.
Now I write about stuff that no-one else may be much interested in, but which makes me happier than pulling weeds can do. The garden seems to be quite happy without me, too.
TED talk by Dan Gilbert:
Articles about the happiest ages:
Two happiest ages are 23 and 69 https://www.bustle.com/p/the-two-happiest-ages-in-life-according-to-new-study-are-unexpected-48469
65 – 79 happiest ages of all https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-35471624