It’s in the little things that I see the difference a bit of life experience makes.
Like the first days of spring. Those wonderful days when the sun comes out, everybody sheds their winter clothing and flocks to the town squares.
When I was younger I always spent those days running around, making sure I didn’t miss a thing. I had to speak to everybody, greet everybody and make certain that I knew everything that was going on. I rushed and rushed, but still felt like I was still missing something.
Now that I’m a little older, I’ve slowed down. I’ll sit at a table, talk with my friends, watching the young crowd rush by—versions of me in times past—wondering why they aren’t appreciating the one thing they came out here for, the sun!
Like them, I used to want everything but now I just want the important things.
That’s just one of the things I’ve figured out as I’ve gotten older. There are a few more that have made me happier and more successful with age—in part by allowing me to redefine what this thing called success actually is:
1. I realize the difference between status and happiness:
One fascinating thing I’ve come to realize is that while many of us say we’re trying to be happy, our actions say something different. We want to be recognized, we want to be famous. Status is not the same as happiness. We gain happiness through friends, loved ones, giving, doing what we love, engagement and having a good night’s sleep.
What most of us spend our time chasing is money, prestige, recognition, getting, stuff and power. In other words, what they’re chasing is status. Now status is valuable. It lets us get things done, insulates us from risks and lets us hang out with influential people.
The thing is it’s not happiness and as long as we confuse one for the other it is pretty hard to be happy.
2. I realize it is not the end of the world:
When I was younger and something went wrong, I got emotional. This was probably because often it was the first time it had happened to me. As I got a bit more experienced, this sense of been there, done that set in and, trust me, it’s wonderful. Instead of blowing things out of proportion, I can sigh, take a moment to collect myself and then deal with the problem in an efficient and calm way (most of the time).
This helps both on the happiness and the success front. In terms of happiness, things we see as bad don’t weigh as heavily on our minds. We get over them far more quickly, in part because we’ve developed coping mechanisms. In terms of success, we can rely on what we’ve learned to make sure we don’t make the same mistake twice.
3. I have gained perspective:
When I was young I went out every weekend, jumped off every waterfall and wanted to ride every single motorbike. What was more, I couldn’t understand why anybody would ever want to stop doing those things.
Well, now I’m a bit older and guess what? I’ve stopped doing those things. It’s not just that my hormones have changed. It’s also that I now realize that happiness doesn’t lie at the end of something. It isn’t in the next shot glass, waterfall or motorbike engine. Happiness isn’t about the future, it’s about the moment we’re in.
Now that doesn’t mean that we can’t want something, just as long as we realize that happiness doesn’t lie in getting what we want—because chances are, the moment we get whatever we desire, our attention will quickly move on to the next thing we want.
4. When I stopped asking for respect I finally got it:
Maybe they saw it in the crows feet at the corners of my eyes. Maybe they saw it in the way I started holding myself.
Or maybe it’s just that I stopped trying so hard.
Whatever it is, people sense it. They seem to know I’ve been around and respect me more for it. And I find that’s easily turned into either happiness or success.
5. I’ve stopped wanting the impossible:
We can’t all change the world. We can’t all be president. Most of us won’t do either. Now that sounds absolutely horrifying when we’re young. It’s like a giant pit of insignificance has just opened at our feet.
The thing is, as we get a little older we kind of get used to the idea. We don’t need to change the world, we don’t need to become president. We just need to matter in our little corner and among the people we love. What’s more, once we’ve accepted that and stopped chasing impossible goals and ambitions, happiness becomes so much easier.
For dissatisfaction is the gap between our ambitions and our accomplishments.
It’s just about perspective and acceptance, really. Just like the younger version of me couldn’t seem to appreciate the sunshine, so I didn’t know what to focus on and what to accept as it is.
I think Reinhold Niebhur said it best:
“Give me the serenity to accept what I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
That’s what the older me grasps. Perhaps that’s why the older me is happier than the younger ever was. If we could only figure out a way to appreciate that a little earlier in life.
Author: Diana Beyer
Editor: Khara-Jade Warren
Image: martinak15/ Flickr