The senior age benchmark is 60 – which I just reached some four months ago. Verily so, I’m just starting the second half of my life.
Am I happier now? Or do I expect my second half of life to be happier than my first half?
Well, as some are wont to say, 60 is the new 50 or even 40. And if Harvard genetics professor (and author of New York Times’ bestseller, “Lifespan: Why We Age – And Why We Don’t Have To”) David Sinclair’s state-of-the-art experiments on genetic or cellular reprogramming are to be taken with a grain of truth, it will be “quite normal for 80-year-olds to hike mountains with their grandkids and start new careers.”
But wait, I’m not about to delve simply into longevity. As this piece’s title aptly suggests, what is more important is not having more years to our life but spending more quality life to our years, not just stretching our lifespan but relishing our happiness-span.
Back when I was 50, I scribbled a thought in my personal journal: “My engrossed attention to the pressing but expendable concerns of the present induces me to forget my past’s existential ideals and prevents me from chasing my once longed-for future or long-lost dreams.”
Perceptibly, from this thought, one could infer that, then at 50, I have had faltered in attaining my erstwhile dreams and aspirations. Which I do not deny. After getting out of the seminary and eventually getting married, I wanted to be a lawyer but I only reached halfway of law studies as I have to prioritize my family’s upkeep. Getting married early and unprepared, I thought I could also attain stability – financial or otherwise – early on. But I was wrong. Instead, reckoning so, I kept on hopping from one job to another trying to find not just money but also passion and fulfilment.
In short, my life’s first half had been riddled with flamed-out pursuits, painful failures, crushing defeats, and shattered dreams.
Does this mean that, now in my second half of life, I’m not any bit happier yet because of “long-lost dreams”?
On hindsight, my career or professional engagement focused mainly on three areas: college teaching, writing, and on training and development.
After some 16 years of teaching and even once becoming a college Dean of Student Affairs, I wistfully decided to quit the teaching job for some reasons. Saddled with campus or work politics, I was disillusioned about the teaching profession. I became “burned out” in teaching, routinely checking papers and computing grades, not finding meaning but simply repeating the same lessons to different batches of students. Also, having reached the more-or-less apex of the academic ladder which is Deanship, I felt I wanted to explore more – not in terms of position but something out of passion.
Thereafter, thus, I shifted to the writing career. I first started as a writer for a Catholic magazine. Then I later concentrated on speech writing – for heads of government agencies and LGUs – and now, being this paper’s columnist.
Alongside my writing career, I happened to partner with somebody who’s a virtuoso – no doubt about it – in training and development, conducting or implementing training programs to various organizations and clientele.
So, ask again, am I happier now than in my life’s first half? My answer is obviously in the affirmative. Yes, I may have unflinchingly kept on quitting a lot of other jobs, but I have found purpose and significance in what I’m doing now. Yes, I may not have become rich until now, but I have found passion and fulfillment in my present endeavours.
How then can we become happier in the second half of our life?
Here are some profound insights excerpted from Arthur C. Brooks, American social scientist and professor at Harvard Kennedy and Business Schools, in his recently published book, “From Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness, and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life.”
1. Happiness is not just up to chance. Happiness is a set of elements; it’s made up of enjoyment, satisfaction, and purpose. As you age, you can control all those things – not perfectly, but a lot more than we typically think.
2. Our natural strengths change – and we need to get from one success curve to the second. In your first half of life, you have what psychologists call “fluid intelligence” – the ability to work hard with focus and solve problems, your analytic capacity, or what makes you a superstar. But as you get to the later part of life, you shift to “crystallized intelligence.” It’s not all about working hard and focusing, not just about getting but giving – it’s about wisdom and passing on of knowledge. You get wiser as you get older. The trick is to go from fluid to crystallized intelligence, from innovator to instructor, from learner to mentor.
3. Don’t add without subtracting. One thing that happy older people have in common is that they don’t just know how to add things to their lives; they also know how to subtract things from their lives. To be happy, you need to become a sculptor and chip away the things that aren’t you – the “possessions and positions,” the attachments, the beliefs, or even the opinions.
4. Happiness is based on love. Love is the nuclear fuel of happiness, and if you don’t have a lot of love in your life, you can’t be happier as you get older. So you need to cultivate your relationships, whether they’re friendships, family relationships, or marriage. You’ve got to see them get better as you get older so that you can get happier as you get older.
And, let me add one last insight to Arthur Brook’s “to be older and happier” list.
As I have just entered the second half of life, I have realized that it is the best of time to be GRATEFUL. Because the more we are grateful, the more we will find things to be grateful for, especially in our senior life.