Category Archives: Midlife Wisdom

Learn How to Say No

I was watching Good Morning America on Tuesday. They were talking about this article, “14 Bad Habits That Drain Your Energy”.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As they discussed a few of the bad habits like skipping exercise when you’re tired, one habit caught my attention. “You Have Trouble Saying No.”

Yup, that’s me. Even at this age when I should know better, I’m still the ultimate people-pleaser. The reasons for this aren’t entirely bad. I want to help people and I’m afraid of sounding rude. I want other people to be happy and hate to fight. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings and want to be nice.

However, people-pleasing comes with a hefty price tag.

Trying to make people happy all the time is impossible which leads to frustration. People-pleasing comes at the expense of my own time, energy, and happiness. This bad habit can make me resentful, cranky, and angry over time.

Although the word “no” may seem intimidating, on the occasions that I’ve stood up for myself and uttered this small two-letter word, it was actually liberating. If I’m even thinking about saying no, there’s an important reason. I have the right to set boundaries and I’m better off listening to my intuition.

And guess what? When I said no, the world didn’t come to an end. People didn’t hate me forever or put up much resistance. In fact, they took it much better than I imagined.

As I’m slowly learning the hard way, learning to say no is one of the most useful and self-empowering skills you can develop. By clearly articulating your needs and challenges, you’ll feel less inclined to people-please and find more time for yourself and the things that are most important to you.

If you’re like me and feel uncomfortable saying no, here are five ways to decline requests in a graceful, polite, and honest way:

  1. “I’m sorry, I can’t do this right now.” Don’t over-explain or defend your decision and use a sympathetic yet firm tone. If a person asks you why not, reply that it doesn’t fit into your schedule and change the subject. Walk away if necessary.
  2. “I can’t; I have too many other commitments at the moment.” No guilt in this answer, because I’m sure that’s true in all of our lives.
  3. “Let me think about it and get back to you.” This response will give you time to consider your options, build up your courage, and say no with greater confidence.
  4. “I’ll have to decline, but thank you anyway.” This statement usually ends the discussion.
  5. “No.” This is the response for pushy people. Just say it outright. You’ll be surprised when the reception isn’t half as bad as what you imagined it to be. Many times the fear of saying no is in your own mind.

Use one of these suggestions or find one that you are comfortable with and start saying no to requests that don’t meet your priorities. Rest assured, as you practice saying no, it gets easier. 

Learning to say no today will help you be happier tomorrow. Each time you say no, you are saying yes to your own well-being, your personal needs, and things that bring you joy and excitement. So, don’t put it off. Start saying no today!

Spend Money on Experiences Not Stuff

The economy is finally showing signs of recovery and maybe you have a bit of cash to spare. You’ve been working hard and haven’t had a break since the recession started. You deserve a treat. What should you spend the money on?

A.    A new pair of shoes

B.    The latest HDTV

C.    Diamond earrings

D.    A new couch

E.    A trip

F.    Tickets to a concert

G.    A romantic meal at a restaurant

Image courtesy of  digitalart/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of digitalart/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

According to the latest research, answers E, F, or G may be your best bet. Why? Research suggests that, in the long run, experiences make people happier than things.

“One of the most common things people do with their money is get stuff,” said Michael Norton, a Harvard Business School professor and co-author of the book Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending. “But we have shown…with research that stuff isn’t good for you. It doesn’t make you unhappy, but it doesn’t make you happy. But one thing that does make us happy is an experience.”

That’s in part because the initial pleasure of purchasing a new object, such as a new TV or pair of shoes, quickly wears off. Buying things has an instant drug-like effect – immediate and gratifying at the time – but the satisfaction doesn’t last long. Material objects, after all, depreciate and deteriorate. Memories of experiences, on the other hand, continue to provide feelings of joy and happiness long after the event happens. In fact, fond memories typically get better as time passes.

Think about it. After seeing a new necklace day after day, the newness wears off and the joy fades away as we become accustomed to seeing the jewelry and become bored with it. However, small, frequent pleasures tend to be different every time – whether it’s reading the latest summer blockbuster, a cup of tea with a friend, a weekend trip to the beach, or a picnic with our loved one. Because each experience is unique, instead of feeling bored, we treasure the memory.

My parents loved to travel when they were younger and often told me they never regretted spending money on a trip somewhere new. I took their advice to heart and if my husband and I had to forgo a new couch for a vacation – so be it. A word of warning, however, my parents, nor my husband and I, ever went into a debt for a trip. When you come home facing credit card bills you can’t pay off, it quickly saps the joy out of those memories.

In fact, several small indulges like a Starbuck’s latte or pedicure, might be better than one big-ticket item, such as a sports car or European vacation. The frequency of pleasures may be more important than the size.

For example, maybe you dream of a lakeside cabin or beach house with great fishing and spectacular sunsets. What you don’t think about are all the plumbing disasters or the countless long drives home with kids fighting in the back seat of the car. Or all the monthly expenses that make you feel even more stressed out. How about renting a cabin for a weekend with all the pleasure and none of the headaches? Instead of purchasing a sports car, consider renting a convertible for a weekend trip or while on vacation. You can have all the fun without the burden of huge car payments or expensive repair costs.

After all, when someone asks you what was the best part of your life, is buying the latest electronic gadget or a new ring the answer? Most likely, you would share an experience that you cherish.

That’s because we are the sum of our experiences and memories, not the sum of our possessions.

Simplify Your Life

Sometimes the subjects I choose for my blogs are things I need to work on and this is one of them. We’re all works of progress, right? 

72/365 - And Your Point Is?
How to Balance Your LifeHelga Weber / Foter / CC BY-ND

As a writer, I’m used to brutally editing my work. If it doesn’t work, out it goes. Because if you cut out what’s unnecessary, you have a better and more meaningful story. The same goes for our lives. After all, we’re not meant to live in a frantic world rushing from one commitment to the next without a moment to stop and catch our breath. Our health and our sanity will suffer sooner rather than later.

To simplify one’s life means different things to different people, but essentially it means eliminating unessential things to make room for what’s really important to us. In other words, less is more.

As a first step, why don’t we take a moment to inventory what’s important to us. List five essential things in your life that you value and love. Which is the most important? Which do you value the most?

My list is as follows:

  1. My spirituality. Anyone that knows me knows that I have dedicated myself to God and that comes first in my life. This one is simple for me.
  2. My family. I am a wife, mother, grandmother, daughter, and sister. This is a trickier one to balance.
  3. My work. Writing has been a lifelong addiction and I am fortunate enough to have made that my career. However, I’m trying to get better at selecting jobs that I enjoy and that bring me satisfaction. Simplifying my life for me also means being happier with less and not striving after money or success.
  4. My home. As I age, I’m beginning to let go of the perfection I used to demand from myself in this area.
  5. Myself. This includes exercising and hobbies such as sailing, traveling, and reading.

Yes, I just noticed that I’m last on my list. Is it the same for you?

Okay, now that you’ve made your list, examine it and make sure the items are in line with your values, priorities, and life goals.

Now look at your list again and ask yourself how you spend your time. List what you do from the time you get up to the time you go to bed. Are your activities in line with the five most important things in your life? Are you letting unnecessary things get in the way? Or are doing what everyone else wants and not doing what’s important to you?

Important questions, my friends.

Now it’s time to make a conscious decision to focus on what’s important and eliminate the things that give you the least return for your invested time and effort. Edit out the non-essentials. Be tough and merciless.

That means saying no to the unnecessary things you don’t enjoy. You don’t want to go to that baby shower? Decline and send a gift. You don’t want to head up the school’s charity function this year? Don’t do it. That doesn’t make you a terrible parent and believe it or not, the world will keep spinning.

Prioritize your activities and set personal boundaries. Like I said in my former blog, How Boomers Can Use Midlife Wisdom to Find Happiness, make healthy, life-affirming choices by saying no to meaningless requests and saying yes to what excites you.

Saying no to things that don’t have value to you or don’t bring joy to your life is the most liberating path to a simpler life. You’ll be happier, more content, and calmer.

So make that list of priorities and if you’re so inclined, share it with me. I’d love to hear what they are along with any tips you’ve discovered along the way for simplifying your life.

The Importance of Self-Acceptance

Give Yourself a Thumbs Up!

Give Yourself a Thumbs Up!

Do you accept yourself as you are?

That can be a difficult question to answer sometimes. I think as you age, you get better at self-acceptance and becoming comfortable in your own skin.

However, if you’re like me, that question often triggers thoughts about things I’d like to change about myself.

We women, in particular, are incredibly hard on ourselves. We can be insecure, full of self-doubt, and even ashamed, particularly about our looks and our weight.

“Self-acceptance is an invitation to stop trying to change yourself into the person you wish to be, long enough to find out who you really are,” Robert Olden wrote in an article, “How Self-Acceptance Can Crack Open Your Life.”

That sentence made me pause and think.

If we want to gain a positive sense of whom we are and find happiness, then we have to stop judging ourselves so harshly. That doesn’t mean we stop trying to be a better person.  It just means that we need to accept our shortcomings and faults as well as our good qualities and our accomplishments. It also means letting go of perfection.

Self-acceptance is a bit different than self-esteem. Self-esteem relates to how we value and respect ourselves. Self-acceptance involves the process of recognizing our weaknesses and limitations, and not letting that knowledge interfere with our ability to accept ourselves fully. That means we accept our bodies even though they don’t look like Sharon Stone or Madonna. We accept that we’re getting wrinkles and parts are starting to sag as we get older. We accept that we’re going to make mistakes. These things don’t mean we’re a bad person. Just human.

Self-acceptance also means that our image of ourselves is not based on other people’s opinions of us. We all run into people who insult us or treat us disrespectfully. However, if we accept ourselves, we will not allow their comments or behavior to destroy us or ruin our happiness.

If we accept ourselves, we’ll stop comparing ourselves to other people. Instead we’ll focus on our own journey of self-discovery and personal growth. Are you a better person than you were a year ago? Are you more loving, kind, wise, healthy, strong, or joyful? Don’t compete with anyone else. Focus on your own progress and accept that there will be bumps in the road along the way.

If we can start accepting our imperfections and embrace our unique, authentic selves, instead of spending time, money and energy trying to change ourselves, we’ll all be happier.

Use Good Judgment to Enjoy a Happier Life

“Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment,” said Will Rogers.

Image courtesy of  Stuart Miles/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We all get up in the morning with good intentions to make wise choices. Boomers have their share of experience in life. So why do we sometimes make poor decisions?

Emotions often veil our ability to use good judgment, distort our thought processes, and lead us to ignore harmful consequences. Impulsiveness, peer pressure, fear, greed, lack of self-awareness, stress, and selfishness can also lead us astray.

So how can boomers use wisdom and good judgment to improve our lives and become happier? Fortunately, judgment is a skill that can be developed with time and patience. Here are five tips:

1. Be deliberate, take your time, and think before acting. Knee jerk responses and quick decisions typically lack wisdom. Don’t make snappy decisions just because you don’t want the decision hanging over you and you’re sick of thinking about it. Sometimes just being patient and waiting can lead to a natural and practical solution.

2. Carefully consider your objectives, alternatives, the likely consequences of your decision, and any potential trade-offs. Think outside the box to create resourceful alternatives. Weigh the uncertainties and risks.

3. Don’t simply rely on your own judgment. If you are a spiritual person, God’s council will never steer you wrong. Ask other people you respect for their advice and opinions to gain a new perspective. Invaluable council can be gained from spiritual advisers, mentors, family members, and trusted friends. Another person can bring clarity to a situation by sharing their experiences and offering a different and unexpected outlook.

4. Develop positive character traits to help you make good decisions. Traits, such as a respectful and responsible attitude toward yourself and others along with confidence are conducive to developing good judgment skills. Feel empowered by positive behaviors and decisions.

5. Poor decisions often result when people are tired, overworked, and stressed. Stay healthy, exercise, eat right and get enough sleep. Using good judgment also requires a healthy mental state. Be realistic about your personal strengths and limitations. Have a well-ordered sense of priority in all aspects of your life.

These are just a few ways you can use good judgment to enjoy a happier life. Brainstorm and I’m sure you can find more ways to make insightful, knowledgeable, astute decisions to improve your life.

Let Go of Regret

Learning how to let go isn’t easy, but it’s surprisingly satisfying and can leave room in your life for better things. “Some people believe holding on and hanging in there are signs of great strength,” Ann Landers once said. “However, there are times when it takes much more strength to know when to let go and then do it.”

Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net".

Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net”.

One of the things we should let go of is regret.

Few people go through life without wondering about the path not taken or wishing they’d made a different decision at a critical crossroad. “That’s part of being human,” says Caroline Adams Miller, author of Creating Your Best Life. “The second-guessing typically starts in your 20s over things like not pursing a relationship or choosing the wrong major in college. And in midlife, your doubts are more likely to be about past choices—that you didn’t quit an unsatisfying job years earlier or have children when you were younger.”

How can we get past that kind of regret? If you find yourself constantly asking, “What if?” that’s probably a sign there’s something missing from your life, and you should consider listening to those daydreams, says Miller. For example, if you’re kicking yourself that you settled for a stable job instead of pursuing your love of acting, try out for a production by your local community theater and see what happens.

Not all remorse is easy to let go. We can’t go back in time and un-say something unkind or re-do thoughtless actions that hurt someone. We can, however, apologize and make amends as best we can – and then move on. Understanding that your challenges and blunders have made you the individual you are today is a great way to forgive yourself and learn from your mistakes so you can be a better you tomorrow.

Also make sure you’re not blowing a situation out of proportion. You may be reliving something over and over while the other person has already moved on. That awkward thing you said to a co-worker you’re obsessing about? Maybe she didn’t give it a second thought. The fight you had with your family that’s causing sleepless nights? They likely forgave you long ago and forgot all about it after you apologized. Try to look at the situation objectively. Maybe you’re being overly dramatic or neurotic, when in reality, the best thing for everyone is to just leave it behind.

How can you move forward while you’re still looking in the rear view mirror? You can’t. That’s why you need to let go of regret.

Use Midlife Wisdom to Find Happiness

Image courtesy of ratch0013/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net".

Image courtesy of ratch0013/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net”.

As middle-aged adults, we’ve raised a family, navigated a career, experienced love and loss, and had our share of successes and failures. All these experiences give us insight and wisdom that can help us find happiness.

Most of us have begun figuring out what’s important in our lives. We have a better idea of who we are, what we want, and what makes us happy.

It’s true we have many responsibilities in our 40s, 50s, and 60s that may include high-pressure jobs, raising teens and young adult children, and caring for elderly parents. However, you may be surprised by the number of stressors in your life that you can eliminate or reduce with just a little bit of wisdom.

Here are a few simple tips that really work:

  • Make healthy, life-affirming choices by saying no to meaningless requests and saying yes to what excites and scares you.
  • Avoid people who stress you out. As you get older, you should have enough wisdom to walk away from people and situations that don’t work for you anymore and end relationships that drag you down. If that isn’t possible, at least limit your time with people who continually step on your last nerve. Instead, concentrate on the people that truly enhance your life.
  • Use wisdom to control your environment. If the evening news makes you anxious, find a comedy show to make you laugh. If traffic is literally driving you crazy on your commute home, take a longer but less-traveled, scenic route.
  • In some cases, the best way to cope with stress is to accept the situation. Some sources of stress are simply inescapable and although acceptance may be hard, it’s better than fighting circumstances you can’t change.
  • When facing major challenges, try to look at them as opportunities for personal growth. If your own poor judgment contributed or caused a stressful situation, reflect on your choices and learn from your mistakes. As Maya Angelou says, “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”

These are just a few ways you can embrace your midlife wisdom to enjoy a happier life.  Brainstorm and I’m sure you can find more ways to make insightful, knowledgeable, astute decisions to improve your life.

Expectation is the Root of All Heartache

 

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

The title of this blog, sometimes attributed to Shakespeare, is not necessarily a negative thought. Whether Shakespeare wrote that “expectation is the root of all heartache” or not is still up for debate, but whoever said it, there is some truth in the statement.

The trouble with expectations is that our happiness is then influenced by things we don’t have, we’re never going to have, and wouldn’t have missed if we hadn’t come to expect them.

The book Engineering Happiness offers us this formula: happiness equals reality minus expectations. In other words, raise expectations beyond reality’s capacity to meet them and disappointment, frustration, and misery follows.

Given that formula, we can either improve our reality or lower our expectations. Most of us choose the former. We’d prefer to churn in our wretchedness than lessen our expectations. Lowering our sights feels like a cop out. We figure it’s better to be a bunch of miserable overachievers than content slackers.

Unfortunately, we tend to overestimate the importance of life circumstances on our happiness. For example, we may think if we were rich, lost weight, retired and traveled around the world, got rid of all our wrinkles, scored that job promotion, or owned a luxurious house, we’d be happier. The truth is chasing and expecting to accomplish these goals – which may be impossible – can actually make us less happy. Even if we were able to achieve these objectives, we still may not be content. For example, people who suddenly come into extreme wealth, whether because of an inheritance, insurance settlement, or a lottery win, rarely find happiness.

In addition, high expectations can turn us into perfectionists, which is exhausting, unrelenting, and unachievable. Who wants that? When we let go of expectation, we free ourselves from disappointment, regret, disillusionment, and heartache.  We invite feelings of gratitude. A whole new world opens up to us, with adventurous opportunities we hadn’t even imagined.

How about expecting the unexpected instead? Reach for your goals, but remember that life sometimes throws you a curve ball. And remember not to make your aspirations and dreams so high they are impractical or unreachable.

Why Older People Are Happier Than Baby Boomers

canstockphoto13084900How does happiness change as we age? Maybe you assume that children live a happy, carefree life, the teen and young adult years are full of turmoil and confusion, middle aged adults are happier, wiser, and more settled, and old people are depressed and grumpy.

If so, you’re wrong. A recent report published in Psychological Science, an AARP study, and research by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) all point to the same conclusion. While the statistics in these happiness studies vary slightly, most research agrees that generally older people – and even the younger generation – are happier than us baby boomers (especially those ages 49-64). In fact, a 2012 AARP study confirmed there is a U-shaped happiness curve with the early 50’s as the lowest point of well-being.

As a 53-year-old, this raised my eyebrows. I know from personal experience that hitting the mid-century mark can be a bit disenchanting. In my case, it meant menopause which resulted in insomnia and panic attacks, a colonoscopy, shoulder surgery, a dental implant (here’s more about sedation dentistry), and watching my parents’ health rapidly decline. Many boomers face worries about financial security and retirement, the difficulties of raising teenagers, looming college tuitions, adult children moving back home, and caring for aging parents, which all can cause middle age melancholy.

Despite these facts, however, I was still surprised to learn that my age group is statistically the unhappiest. While it’s true, we boomers have our challenges, let’s face facts – so do old people. So why are they happier than us?

Before I continue, I’m not saying that some old people don’t fit the typical stereotype and are lonely, depressed, cranky, and miserable. Truth be known, we all know old people that make us secretly vow we’ll never be like them when we face our final years. But despite stereotypes of grumpy old men and women, several studies show they view themselves as happier than us. That should at least give us pause for thought.

A variety of theories are floating around why this is the case, but most hypotheses base these happiness findings less on life circumstances and more on a change in outlook that kicks in after middle age. As you probably already know, the older we get, the wiser we get. Some psychologists believe that cognitive processes are responsible for older people’s happiness including focusing on good memories and pushing aside negative ones. Other studies discovered that as people age, they seek out situations that will lift their moods, for example, eliminating friends, family, or acquaintances who bring negativity to their life. Older adults are also better at letting go of disappointment and regret. Facing their own mortality and aware their time is limited, the elderly tend to feel more grateful and savor the moment. This can all lead to contentment and tranquility.

Why wait until we’re older to adapt some of these strategies? Don’t gasp, but maybe it’s time for our authority-averse, rebellious boomer generation to change our attitude about listening to our elders. Perhaps we can learn something from the generation that precedes us and find our bliss now.