At my mother's 60th birthday party, the rule of the night was that any time the room started clinking their glasses, someone had to stand up and tell a story about my mom. Her siblings were there, along with other family members, co-workers, friends, and, of course, her kids. Boy, did we get an education that night.
It turns out that my mother is a person. Not just a mom, but a woman, a friend, a respected professional, and apparently one hell of a girl to hang out with, if the stories were even close to true. My favorite was the one about her waving a dry-cleaning receipt in front of a security guard, insisting it was a back stage pass, and somehow getting herself and two friends into a sold-out Neil Diamond concert.
I never really knew my mom as an adult. I moved out of her house when I was 17 and didn't live there again until moving back to Indiana while she was recovering from a brain tumor. I had no idea how alike we were in our insane, make-the-rules-as-you-go, "do first, ask later" approaches to life. It never occurred to me that she could be living life so fully in her 50s.
That thought reminded me of a photo of my grandmother and her sisters dressed as the Andrews Sisters, doing an act at a family gathering. Everyone is laughing so hard that the picture makes you start to laugh just looking at it. I checked the date on the back of the photo. 1967. Yes, they were all in their 50s.
So 50 is not the new 40. Fifty has been 50 for at least 50 years, and I'm pretty sure it's the same 50 it's always been.
As a member of Gen X, my cohort has reached the age like all those before us when we've started the eternal prattle about how life was better when we were young and rode bikes without helmets and played with matches and got spanked, and kids today are worthless, blah blah blah. We're also promulgating doomsday scenarios about all the calamities that are sure to leave this planet without food or clean water or good sushi, and pretty soon it's all going to end. Just like it was going to after the Atomic Bomb. Just like it was after World War I.
Asserting that each generation is a unique snowflake, and life will be worse for those after us and the future was ruined by those before us is part of the same cycle it's always been part of. People are living longer (thus the emerging need to redefine each decade as it arrives), but the same patterns repeat throughout history, which is a very good thing. When I was in 10th grade, I came up with the theory that every third decade, we Americans just seem to chill out and enjoy ourselves. It's reflected in our movies and music, the result of economic recovery and peacetime prosperity, and generally follows an extended period of malaise. The paper I wrote about it got a C, because Mr. Weatherston said I didn't have enough justification for my opinion, but that was 1983. Had it been just six years later, I could have dropped the mic and left Honors English like a boss.
So, with more evidence in my corner, I present to you the "Valerie Alexander Party Decade Postulate" to let you know that the Twenty-Teens are going to be a blast, just as much as the 80s, the 1950s, the Roaring 20s and the Gay 90s were. Each party decade ushering in the proliferation of a new form of entertainment, perfectly timed to flower during an upswing in the economy (like the one we're starting to feel now, despite our current Congress' best efforts to keep it depressed) and a rebuilding of national spirit after a decade or more of war and its aftermath.
Entertainment puts us in a good mood (or anesthetizes us, whichever view you prefer), and every 30 years, the medium leaps forward in a way that spreads happiness throughout the land. The 1890s saw the phonograph, and the first mass production of music recordings accessible to every home. In the 1920s the movies exploded, as did TV in the 1950s, and in the 1980s we got MTV, adding visuals to our music in a way that made it that much more visceral, and VCRs, allowing us to time shift our viewing for the first time ever (for those who could figure out how to program the damn things).
So here we are, in 2014, with the next big evolution -- the skyrocketing of streaming entertainment on demand, starting to see the signs of another decade of awesome.
Just look at the current crop of Academy Awards contenders. Keeping with the trend of the last two to three years, at least half are comedies, with only one that could be described as "harrowing." Comparing that to the 21st century's first decade, when there weren't six nominees among all Best Picture hopefuls that didn't make you want to slit your wrists, and you can see how we're moving out of the doldrums and into joy, just like when we transitioned from the 70s to the 80s. Less Deer Hunter, more E.T.; less Kramer Versus Kramer, more Pretty in Pink. Thank God for John Hughes!
As a child of the 80s, remembering what that was like, I couldn't be more hopeful and excited for the years to come, and the teens who get to experience them. Katy Perry's latest work is as joyful and empowering as anything by Cyndi Lauper. Bands like Vampire Weekend, Fun, Neon Trees and New Politics make me smile within the first few notes, and if you don't think Miley Cyrus is the next Madonna in terms of voice and buzz, then (a) you haven't really listened to her voice and (b) you're ignoring the things that were written about Madonna at the start of her career. The only difference is that none of Madonna's detractors ever got retweeted.
These are buoyant, happy times, and as much as I loved spending my teens in the 80s, I am just as thrilled to be living out my 40s in the 'teens. I enjoyed my youth, but it wasn't any better than what today's youth are experiencing. I'm concerned about the future of our country and our planet, but no more than any previous generation. And at the end of this decade, when I do turn 50, I will know that it's going to be even better than I could have imagined. Just like it has been for every 50-year-old before me. And I promise not to try to convince anyone that it's some upgraded version of 40.
Happy New Year! (... and I mean really happy!)
For a guidebook in achieving lasting, permanent happiness, check out "Happiness as a Second Language," a Happiness Top Seller on Amazon, and for even more happiness, please visit Speak Happiness.com, and follow Speak Happiness on Facebook and Twitter.
For more by Valerie Alexander on Huffington Post, click here.
For more on happiness, click here.