Dear Younger Self,
True confession: I hate a lot about getting older. It takes me twice as long to get over injury and illness. Thanks to my California childhood (minus sunscreen) my skin is starting to show brown spots, red spots, and even some crinkles. Crinkles sound nicer than wrinkles, don’t they? My advice, never forget your sunscreen and start a savings account to pay for a good dermatologist. Weight loss is twice as challenging as my metabolism slows. But weight gain is a piece of cake (or pie or cookie). Remember how you could eat everything you wanted and not worry about. Not anymore.
Despite all the drawbacks of getting older, I have definitely found some benefits to reaching middle age. Most of these have to do with what’s on my inside, not outside. I have a better idea of what it takes to have more happiness and satisfaction in life. Maybe it takes 30 years of experience and life to get to this point. If so, I can’t wait to see what I accomplish in the next 30 years. If I could give my twenty-something self a heads up, this is what I would say.
1. Don’t Take Things Personally
Not everyone will like you. Some people may actually go out of their way to put you down or hurt you. Don’t take it too personally. I have finally come to the conviction that what people do says more about them than me. Rude driver? Not my problem. Friend who I thought was trustworthy, but shared something I told them in confidence? Hurtful, but not my fault. I realize that very little of what others think, do and say has to stay with me. Becoming immune to the opinions and actions of others helps prevent hurt and suffering and brings you more happiness.
I say it’s taken me a long time to come to this conviction and it has. I spent decades holding on to hurt, slights, and offenses. It can be very difficult to change the way you look at the world. But it’s been worth it. I don’t understand how I thought that holding out to hurts and slights was a good thing. Holding on to hurt only hurts you. The key to letting them go is to look at things differently.
2. Love People Anyway
You’re job isn’t to judge. You’re job is to love. Once you stop taking things so personally, it is easier to love people for who they are. It’s true that some people are easier to love than others, but if you can find something to love in every person you meet, you will be happier. I love this quote from Mother Teresa. It’s easier said than done, but it makes the burdens you carry in life much lighter when you do.
3. Smile More
I smile as much as I possibly can. Some people may think I’m an idiot, but that’s their problem (see #1). There are so many good things about smiles. According to Psychology Today, smiling actually releases chemicals in your brain that make you feel better. Dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin are all released when you smile. People also respond better to people who smile. They perceive you as being more attractive, relaxed, and reliable. And smiling is contagious. It lightens everyone’s day.
Now that I am older, I am much happier to have smile lines than frown lines. Hopefully, those smile marks will keep growing and keep the frown ones off my face. Mother Teresa has some words of wisdom regarding smiles too.
4. Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff
Younger self, you’re a worrier (actually, it’s anxiety, please talk to your doctor). You excel at sweating the small stuff. But you don’t need to. If anything, I have found over the years that sweating the small stuff only makes things worse. It creates less rather than more happiness.
When my daughter first hit her teens, I realized that I needed to pick my battles. Teen wearing too much makeup = small stuff. Teen not talking to you because you harp on her for wearing too much make up = not small stuff. See what I mean? You can’t control everything and trying to just makes you and everyone around you crazy and unhappy.
5. Don’t Wait
I spent too much time putting things off for a “better” time. News flash: there may not be a better time. Do it now. Don’t wait until the kids are older, the house is paid for, or the timing is just right. Too many of us say “I’ll be happier when…” Fill in the blank. It’s a lie we tell ourselves.
Don’t wait for more happiness. Life happens whether you pursue what makes you happy or not. I spent too much time doing what I thought I should do instead of what I found fulfilling. I’m not saying abandon all your responsibilities. But you need to carve out time for growing and nurturing yourself. Yes, the chores don’t do themselves, but no one can develop your talents and your interests except you. Make time for both.
6. Take the Opportunity
Sometimes you’re given an opportunity and you pass on it because it’s hard or scary or too much work. Life only gives you so many opportunities. When you’re younger, they seem to come regularly. As you get older, you have to look harder for them. Take the opportunity to be a good friend, a helpful colleague, and a loving family member. Take the opportunity to go places, experience new things, and live life to its fullest. Don’t pass on the opportunity to learn something new.
7. Enjoy Life
Sure, life is hard. Sad things happen. You will be disappointed in how some things turn out. Things often don’t turn out they way you planned. You will face illness, heartbreak, and pain. But life is meant to bring happiness too. Learning to find the happiness in spite of the sorrow is one of life’s biggest challenges. The sooner you figure it out, the sooner you’ll enjoy it.
I’m saying enjoy your life, whatever comes into it. Make time for yourself. Spend time with the people you love. Seek out new experiences and educational opportunities. Do what brings you happiness. Take the trip. Eat the chocolate. Put your toes in the sand and breathe in the ocean air. Cry when you need to. Laugh out loud. Hugs and kisses are good for your soul. You only live once, so make the most of it. I am not recommending living a hedonistic, everyone else be damned, sort of life. In the long-term, it will not bring you more happiness. I’m saying embrace life and all the crazy, messy, painful, wonderful, joyous, and amazing things that come with it.
What makes me most excited about this advice is that it applies to my younger self, but it also applies to me now. Today, I am the younger me of next year me. It’s also exciting to think of the things I will learn to keep and learn to let go in the future. Yes, there will be more aches, pains, age spots, and crinkles. But there will also be more joy, happiness, and, hopefully, wisdom. Not to mention more chocolate, more friendships, more travels and adventures, and more life to be enjoyed.
Thanks for reading and please share.