mindful aging
Embracing Your Life After 50 to Find Fulfillment, Purpose, and Joy

Andrea Brandt, PhD, MFT

The Opportunity of a Lifetime

Welcome to the opportunity of a lifetime: to grow happier, more confident, more loving and better loved, and more engaged–at the same time as you grow older.

That's probably not what you've been hearing. The message society often sends is that old age is a waiting room for the next world, in which we are increasingly disabled and irrelevant before we disappear altogether. Or, alternatively, it's a playground for old people, where we engage in meaningless recreation all day. The media invite us to fantasize about retirement as a life of leisure, where we no longer have to work toward something, put out effort, or grow.

That's not how I see it. To my mind, that vision means we no longer get to experience the joys of being human: to discover, develop, and expand. There is no magical age at which we need to abandon our dreams and surrender our possibilities. Giving up a salaried occupation–if that's what we choose–doesn't mean giving up purposeful interaction with the world around us. Rather than take feelings of exhaustion and boredom to mean we need to retire, might these negative attitudes be more likely to indicate the need to reinvent ourselves–to explore new territory that brings us back to life and develops the skills we need to flourish there?

Through our youth and early adulthood, we taste a great many experiences and probably make more than one false start we live to regret. By age 50, we've accumulated the wisdom we need to place ourselves on more solid ground with a clearer sense of direction. As we grow older, we can contribute in a new way that is true to who we are today. That is the gift of the present moment. It is fresh and alive with possibility that is not bound to the past.

People are living longer than ever before. And those are healthy years–in fact, we can enjoy the best health of our lifetime, having discarded the bad habits that once held us back. Science extends our lifespan; it's up to us to make those additional years more rewarding to ourselves while we remain engaged with the world in a way that goes well beyond fun and games, although it does include play. As by G. Stanley Hall observed, “We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” “Playing,” to me, means participating–being connected to, engaged with, and active in life. Having playmates, too. This is how we sustain our enthusiasm and joy in life–even as our bodies eventually slow down and our types and levels of activity change.