Over the last several months, many of my friends have entered a new decade of life. Soon, it will be my turn to join them at… that certain age. Birthdays aren’t usually that tough for me, but this one has me thinking a lot more. Getting older is inevitable, but the disparity between how old I feel and my actual age keeps getting bigger, and I find myself focusing more on the number. I’ve heard similar comments from friends, as they approached their own big day. There seem to be some common patterns as we are reminded of aging another year.
Birthdays naturally make us reflect on our lives. We review where we’ve been, what we’ve accomplished and if we feel we are a success. This can create a positive reassurance or a drive to meet goals. More often, I see it foster a dissatisfaction and worry that we aren’t where we’d like to be. We focus on the things we don’t have, or the childhood dreams we can never achieve, and are left down and melancholy.
This goes along with another tendency I’ve observed, a fixation on the past. It goes something like this: Remember when we were in college and so carefree? How I wish I could go back to those days, or at least that smooth, unlined face! Again, the focus is on what we don’t have, and can never have again. Namely, our youth. Suddenly I’m even more aware of the process of aging, and I’m desperately seeking the latest anti-aging creams. I certainly don’t feel happy!
Both of these patterns of thought will ultimately lead to a low mood, because they keep the mind focused on a negative space. We see only what we lack and what we feel we should have. So how can I weather another birthday with grace and good humor? I plan to apply lessons learned from reading positive psychology books. I will focus on the good things instead of the bad. Simple, right? Instead of noticing what is missing, I appreciate what I have. Then I see abundance instead of what is lacking. When I take pleasure in what I have – even the small things – I am satisfied. Nothing I truly need is missing. As my birthday approaches, I am counting my many blessings rather than the number of candles on my cake. I may still notice my age at times (the loud popping of my knees at the start of yoga class, for example), but then I appreciate all the things my body can still do well. It takes practice to redirect my focus, just like any other learning process. Luckily, you can still teach an old dog new tricks!