We live in amazing times. That doesn’t deny that certain aspects ought to be changed or addressed for us all to live with equality and peace of mind. But if we can let go of what isn’t working for a minute, and focus on the advantages of this time and space—it’s possible to fill the mind with admiration and gratitude for what we do have, right here and now. Sometimes that feeling comes from something as simple as reading a great new book.
One such book is Life Reimagined—The Science, Art, and Opportunity of Midlife by Barbara Bradley Hagerty. With a background as an NPR correspondent, Bradley Hagerty knows how to tell a story and fill it with pertinent facts and research. And now, with millions of us around the world hitting midlife and beyond, all the attention, focus, and research about how to make the most of the coming years is inspiring. Bradley Hagerty distills that information in wise and funny ways to remind us all that with design, growing older means growing better.
If you have been reading about positive aging as much as I have, Bradley Hagerty’s suggestions will not come as a surprise. What is SMART is to remember them each and every day.
#1 Engage with verve. The most common theme in this book is a reminder that “autopilot is death.” This applies to your family, all relationships, your work, your health and your mind. Active and purposeful engagement is like oxygen. Cut it off and you die. As Bradley Hagerty says, “The lesson for midlifers is: Of course it takes work to inject zest and vulnerability into your marriage; it takes courage to reappraise your career for not just income but also meaning; it takes effort to sharpen your aging brain. But the research is clear: Engaging in those things you feel are important will lift your joy and satisfaction, in the moment and over the years.” In other words, let’s stop seeking the status quo and always choosing comfort, ease, and safety. Instead, let’s strive for dynamic engagement in all that we do.
#2 Choose purpose over happiness. Bradley Hagerty isn’t a fan of the traditional pursuit of happiness. That type of happiness she avoids because it is often momentary and puts pleasure at the forefront. Instead, she suggests that the idea of human flourishing is best described by the word Eudaimonia and offers us the best satisfaction in the long run. As I’ve written about before, Eudaimonia also helps to keep us focused on those things that launch us happily out of bed in the morning. That sense of well-being and purpose not only makes us intrinsically happy, it makes us robust. While education and wealth are strong influencers on health and happiness, having purpose outplays them both. And as Viktor Frankl, who survived the horror of Nazi concentration camps said, “Life is never made unbearable by circumstance, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.”
#3 Your thinking is your experience. As a person who sways toward optimism every chance I get, this one certainly appeals to me. But Bradley Hagerty defines it somewhat differently. She says, “…there is also a mechanism called a ‘rudder’—that is, your thinking, your approach to triumphs and defeats, joys and pain and losses, the stuff no one escapes—that calibrates one’s happiness. Experts believe that 30 to 40 percent of one’s happiness is determined by how a person thinks or acts. That rudder won’t shelter you from a hurricane as you venture across the ocean, but it will absolutely color how much you enjoy the trip.” Pay attention to what you are focused on and think about during a regular day and make sure that your thoughts reflect the course of your desired intentions.
#4 OPM—Other people matter. Bradley Hagerty reminds us, “All the research converges on one unshaken imperative: If you want to live a long and healthy life, invest in friends, particularly at midlife. Every evolutionary instinct cries out for trusted companions, and the more the merrier, because the more friends you have, the healthier, happier, and more mentally acute you will be, now and in your later years. We are wired for friends.” Interestingly enough, research shows that it is more important for people to have hearty and strong friendships than close family relationships. Of course, is important to remember that friendships demand more effort because they are easier to neglect.
#5 This is the time to enjoy your life. Don’t waste another moment. It is so easy when we get busy in life to forget that right here, right now, is the only time any of us can really enjoy the life we have been given. Most of the time, most of us, are either ruminating about the past or concerned about something in the future. Bradley Hagerty uses her wise 93-year-old mother to remind us that, “It’s now, honey! This is the time to enjoy your life. Don’t waste another moment.”
Obviously, this short article cannot explain all the great ideas contained in this book so I’ll be throwing out more of them in the future as time goes by. I didn’t even touch on all the studies that prove that our brains and bodies are extremely resilient and how many things we can do to keep them active and alive for years. There are also excellent tips for reinventing our careers as we hit this middle period of our lives. And in case you are wondering whether you fit into the “midlife model,” Bradley Hagerty believes that midlife is anywhere between 40 and 65. That includes most of us SMART Living readers.
Best of all, Bradley Hagerty is optimistic about what lies ahead and believes that no matter where we are on the path, second and third chances routinely present themselves for those of us who wish to remain passionately engaged with meaningful life. As always, it’s SMART to remember that the choice is ours to make and this is the best time to enjoy our lives!
Please share in the comments below what helps keep your midlife and beyond vibrantly alive!