New Year, new thoughts, new beginnings. What is it I haven't done that I've always wanted to do? And more importantly, what's holding me back from doing it? Do I have the courage to do it this year?
I remember a 40th surprise birthday party for a friend of ours several years ago. The guests were asked to come about an hour before the "birthday boy" was due to arrive. When we got to the party, we were given a "Hello" name badge sticker and asked to write the name of a place we'd like to go and then put it on our clothing so everyone could see it and as an ice breaker, we could discuss the various places we wanted to go with one another. I'd always wanted to go to Nepal, so I put Nepal on mine and looked forward to seeing all the exotic places other people wanted to go.
Wrong!!! The places people wanted to go to were Laughlin, Nevada, San Francisco, Reno, and a few others. I think the most exotic place anyone wanted to visit was Hawaii. I spent the rest of the night talking to myself because no one was interested in Nepal. People looked at my destination, but no one, not one person, ever talked to me. However, the flame had been lit and I became determined to go. A few months later I did and it was a trip I've never regretted. Would I have been so determined to go without that experience? I doubt it. From that time on, my life has been more about "If I don't do it (whatever it is) now, when am I going to do it?" That mantra has become a core belief for me.
So what's stopping you from doing something you want to do or go somewhere you want to go? Certainly, as we age we've earned the right to do some things we want to do. Usually the things that held us back at an earlier age are no longer relevant, such as small children at home, etc. And if you're retired, the job or lack of time isn't holding you back. In this Internet Age, we can research anything, so we can no longer use the excuse of not knowing about something.
One of the things I've found that holds people back is trying to please everyone in their life. When a family member tells us we shouldn't do something because... it's hard to overcome a negative response from them if we've been "people pleasers" all these years. So, is it time for me? Absolutely. "If not now, when?"
One of the things we've learned (hopefully) in our later years is the art of compromise. I've wanted to go to Sicily for a long time, but I just couldn't make it happen. I'm a vagabond at heart and I've been married to someone for years who is happiest at home. Fortunately he's never tried to keep me from vagabonding around the world, probably knowing it wouldn't work. For a very significant birthday of mine he told me he was giving me the gift of us going to Sicily. A few weeks later, I sensed him backpedaling, saying things like "You know, I'm not real big on seeing lots of museums and cathedrals, etc."
I realized he was getting ready to renege on his gift to me. We both love to cook and have attended cooking schools throughout the world. I suggested we go to a cooking school for several days and then explore Sicily on our own. It was a perfect compromise. A win-win situation for both of us. Now each of us is eagerly looking forward to this trip, but for different reasons. He can cook and I can go to the out-of-the-way places where the people are. One of my fondest memories is eating chicken out of a pot which a local cooked in the cab of his truck as I waited for sunrise to see Borobudur in Indonesia. "If not then, when?" Most people I know would never have done that, thinking of all the reasons (particularly sanitary ones) why one shouldn't eat out of a pot on the back of a dirty truck. I'm so glad I did. I well remember the Indonesian man and the connection we had. I would have missed if I hadn't thought, "If I don't do it, will I regret it?"
My son told my husband recently that my husband's "runway was getting a bit short." (He was diplomatic enough not to comment on mine!) I've thought a lot about that statement and I don't want to get to the end of my runway regretting that I didn't do something. The thought's been cropping up on a daily basis as I watch the hospice caregivers change shifts while they care for our next door neighbor who has terminal cancer. I've wondered what's going through his mind. Does he regret not doing certain things? There will come a time when all of us are unable to do things. In the words of one of my favorite poets, T.S. Eliot, "This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper." I don't want to whimper. I want my world to end with a bang! Don't you?
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Health was "extremely important" to happiness for 73 percent of respondents. People in "good or excellent" health are three times more likely to report being "very" happy. Interestingly, what may matter most is how healthy you think you are: The AARP found that the percentage of people reporting good health is relatively stable over the 35-80 age range, varying only seven percentage points. That's despite the fact that objectively, older people are in fact not as healthy: The number of people who report they are suffering two or more medical conditions increased 400 percent over the 35-80 age range. (People may be comparing their health to their peers who are in worse shape.)
Some 68 percent of respondents called relationships "extremely important" to happiness. Some 72 percent of people who were married or in a relationship called themselves "very happy" or "pretty happy" -- compared to 60 percent of singles. AARP asked respondents to rank the importance of certain activities to happiness, and many of those scoring at the top were relationship-related: 72 percent said "kissing or hugging someone you love"; 72 percent said "watching your children, grandchildren or close relative succeed in what they want to do"; 69 percent said "spending time with your family and friends such as a meal or social gathering'; and 64 percent said "experiencing a special moment with a child." However, relationships did have to be real: "connecting with friends or family on a social media site like Facebook" came in 37th out of 38 activities in contributing to happiness.
Nearly half (47 percent) of respondents said pleasure was "extremely important" to happiness. Among the simple pleasures that were most important to the happiness of people 50 to 80: enjoying natural beauty like a sunset or ocean (64 percent); having someone do something nice for you unexpectedly (56 percent); practicing religious or spiritual faith (50 percent); making progress on personal goals (47%); and being absorbed in a favorite hobby or interest (42 percent).
Four in ten of those surveyed called accomplishment "extremely important" to happiness.
Meaning and engagement were considered "extremely important" to happiness among 38 and 37 percent of respondents, respectively.
Some 31 percent of respondents said money was "extremely important" to happiness. Money was slightly more important to people who earned $25,000 or less. As psychologist and Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman has noted, beyond a household income of $75,000, experienced well-being no longer increases, although people's judgment of how satisfied they are with their lives does continue to increase. At the same time, severe poverty amplifies life's misfortunes, such as illness or divorce. The AARP study found similar results: Income and happiness were positively correlated; when comparing the percentage of those "Very Happy" by income ranges, the slope increases up to the $75,000 mark, then continued to rise even more dramatically. Asked how they would spend $100 on something to increase happiness, most respondents said they would spend it on their family or going out to dinner. This correlates with findings that show buying experiences makes people happier than buying things.
People who feel they are in control of their happiness report that they are 2.5 times happier than those who believe happiness is out of their control. A sense of control is linked to higher income, higher education, good health and not experiencing a major life event in the past year. This finding also mirrors decades of research suggesting autonomy -- the feeling that your actions are self-chosen and self-endorsed -- is a core psychological need. Studies have found people who lack a sense of control -- prisoners, nursing home residents, people living under totalitarian governments -- suffer lower morale and poor health, according to David Myers, a professor at Hope College in Michigan and author of "The Pursuit of Happiness." Interestingly, a sense of control over one's happiness rises with age -- with 69 percent of people age 75 to 80 feeling they have control over their happiness, versus about half of people age 40 to 54. It may be that with the wisdom of the years, people recognize that happiness is a choice.
Spending time with a pet can be a substantial way to contribute to one's happiness, the survey found, especially for older women: 81 percent of women age 66 to 80 who own pets said spending time with them contributes "a lot" to personal happiness. It was also important to two-thirds of singles.
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