Yesterday was my birthday, and I am now 45 years old! That means according to the average life expectancy, half my life is over (that went by quickly!). Many things have become very clear to me since I entered my forties. Looking back over the years, it surprises me that it took me so long to come to certain realizations, but I think if you take the time evaluate the experiences life offers you, you can gain some wisdom. On that note, here are some of the most important lessons I have learned so far:
1. Live in the present. People told me this all the time when I was younger and busy wishing my life away. “I can’t wait until I graduate from college.” I can’t wait until I get married.” “I can’t wait until my kids get older.” I was constantly wishing to be somewhere I wasn’t, doing something different, and I was never happy with where I was. And then my life changed when I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. I was sick for months on end; during that time I was frequently too ill to go to work, spend time with friends, or even care for my family. I began to miss the simple things like joking with my coworkers, going to sporting events and concerts, and picking up my girls after school. You might be thinking, “I would love to get a break from all of my responsibilities so I could lay around and do nothing!” Yet all of these responsibilities and moments make our lives full and our relationships strong. After six months I was finally diagnosed with lupus, and three months after that my medication began working and I started to feel better. Now that I can manage my condition, I understand that every day offers something new. Difficulties in life make us appreciate the good. Don’t get me wrong, I still have my “Woe is me” moments. But I try to remind myself to appreciate every day for what it is, and be thankful for the here and now.
2. Make time for your relationships. I mean all relationships—with family, friends, life partners, and children. You’re busy, I get it. Everyone in the United States is busy. We are so busy that we often put things off. “I’ll call my mom tomorrow.” “I was thinking about my college roommate today. I’ll email her tomorrow.” “I can’t play a game with you tonight, honey. I have work from the office to finish. Maybe we can play tomorrow.” We put things off, and time passes. Our parents age, we grow apart from our friends, and our children grow up and move out. Eventually the time will come when we all will be forced to slow down, and all we will have to look back on are missed opportunities. If you don’t believe me, watch Adam Sandler’s movie Click. It isn’t one of his most famous movies, but I guarantee it will put things into perspective for you. We need to spend the time with the people we love now and create memories we can draw on in the future when free time is abundant but age or distance prevent us from sharing it with the ones we care about most.
3. Be kind to others. Most everyone learns the Golden Rule as a child, but as we get older we often forget to practice it. Yet something as simple as smiling at the people we come into contact with can show kindness and make such a difference. My husband took me out to dinner for my birthday, and as we were getting ready to pay the bill, our waiter commented on what a pleasure it was to serve us. He said it was so nice to wait on people who were so friendly and obviously happy to be enjoying a good meal together. I smile very easily and my kids joke that I can start a conversation with anyone (I inherited these traits from my dad). But the server’s comment made me wonder how many of his customers were unhappy or rude. I’d like to think that after waiting on us his day was a little brighter! Plus, a study done in 2013 supports that people who smile live longer and are generally happier, even if they were “faking” their smiles part of the time. If something so simple can extend my life, make me happier, and improve the lives of those around me, I’m all for it!
So what’s the main point of this post? I think it’s that instead of dwelling on the concept of getting older, I want to use my past experiences to make my future better. With that in mind, I’m hopeful that my next 45 years will be even better than the first!