“The best is yet to come."
(Reading time 3 minute 42 seconds. I timed it with a stopwatch.)
Expect Sunday blogs to get you energized for the week ahead. Inside is actionable guidance so don't just read, but also take action. Today's lesson is simple and complex: the older we get, the better we feel.
Researchers at University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and Stanford University, have discovered the paradox of time: the older we get, the better we feel. The fact that the closer we get to the end of our days, the more content and happy we feel seems to go against logic. Just think of the quote, "youth is wasted on the young." As you age you lose your mobility, mental sharpness, strength, and resilience. Friends start to pass away and our own death is closer. Why then is the older population happier?
The answer to this question starts with a misconception about time. People think that they are their true self at each moment of their lives. The 16 year old cheerleader may understand that she will lose those toned legs and flat stomach, but believes she will maintain a peppy, extroverted personality. As anyone older than 20 knows, personality from freshman year of high school to senior year of college changes drastically. The class clown can become serious just as easily as the nerd from AP Calculus can become charming and witty. Yet, those older than 40 say "of course you change from 15-25, but at 45, I think I know who I am. I may gain a few wrinkles, but I'm not going to suddenly enjoy heavy metal or become assertive. I've always been mellow." Dan Gilbert did a study in which he asked people to predict how much they had changed in the past 10 years and how much they thought they would change in the next 10 years. He asked across many generations. If people are logical, rational, and have a perfect memory the numbers should have matched. Yet, he found that people underestimated how much they would change in the next 10 years across every decade.
Why is this important? You are going to change. You are going to change more than you think you will. Yes the rate of change for a 45-55 year old is slower than from 25-25, but it is still greater than you will predict when you are 45. Your friends, level of extroversion/introversion, level of optimism/pessimism, and the things that you enjoy will change, even more drastically than you can guess. You are always coming into your own. Not to say that 15 year old you is being a "fake" and 85 year old you is "you being yourself", but that both are the authentic you. You are always developing, more than you think.
But why is 85 year old me going to be happier than 35 year old me? Won't I have less money, less mobility, and more doctor's appointments? Yes, but scientists like to call it the gift of the old. The young have the full head of colored hair, but they have to worry about the future. Anxiety, sense of worth, confidence, success are most important. As time goes on people worry less about the "future" because the future gets smaller. It's referred to as "the burden of the future." As people begin to count the years until their demise they become more focused in the now. (The now doesn't really exist. What you think of as now is actually 80 milliseconds ago. A brain needs time to process thoughts and senses.)
A mathematical equation exists to simplify the phenomenon. Across all ages the amount of positive emotions felt remains more or less constant; however, the amount of negative emotions felt decreases. Therefore you currently (younger you) = 10 positive emotions - 5 negative emotions = 5 general happiness scale. You in the future (older you) = 10 positive emotions - 2 negative emotions = 8 general happiness scale.
ACTION TIME: Now that you are at the end of this post you are a few minutes older. Therefore you are more likely to be happier than the younger you of a minutes ago. Surely time doesn't seem to pass that quickly; perhaps you thought of some more anxieties and to-dos in the minutes it took to read this. Take a deep breath. It gets better with age. Learn from your elders and appreciate this moment and how it is changing you to become a better, happier, version of yourself. After all, no matter your current struggle, the best is yet to come. You can make the most of this moment by bringing to the forethought of your mind your current struggles. Just acknowledging them is enough to reduce the anxiety provoking effect of to-dos. Then, eat the frog (as taught in the previously blog post). Do the worst thing. Breathe. And accept that time is passing and you are changing for the better.