Aging gracefully, like everything else, is all about balance.
Numerals are just scribbles invented to mark quantity and belie nothing about quality. Between being an immature brat and a cantankerous curmudgeon, there is a fine line — a fuzzy middle path. Things begin to blur when a seemingly mature adult throws upscale temper tantrums to get their way, or when disorderly youths demonstrate qualities of family leadership far superior to those of their disengaged parents. Even foggier still, when a beautiful and poised grandmother has forgotten how to laugh at life, and when a gnarled and sickly old man finds that he is able to find joy in every remaining moment.
I believe it isn’t possible to “grow up” gracefully, artfully, without maintaining some very essential youthful qualities. Growing up is about a sense of maturity in emotion and action but also by acknowledging that life isn’t living when it’s done too methodically or seriously. Growing gracefully is the art of learning and adapting to life while remaining supple and soft enough to not let it create cynicism and walls.
With a milestone year looming, I’ve recently tended to put pressure on whether or not I’m acting my age. Part of me wants to be up to par, while the other part wants to be sure I’m not missing the point. It’s not so much about becoming a “real adult” as it is about wanting to grow right without becoming over-grown.
The following is a quick and basic guide I wrote to balance flourishing as an adult in my head, without suppressing the curious child in my heart.
On Growing Up:
Know what to be serious about. Only be serious about the two things I have full control over: the way I live life and the way I interact with the people within it. I must be serious about the quality of my interactions with others and the way I care for myself, in order to prep life to run as smooth as possible. Like a car, while I can’t control unforeseen issues and sharp objects in the road, what I can do is to care for the vehicle to prepare it best as possible for encountering the bumps in the road so that it can travel as long and far as possible with only a few minor breakdowns. The better condition the vehicle, the better the ride. I must be serious about driving well and maintaining quality, rather than sweating bumps and mishaps.
Reflecting instead of reacting. The sure sign of immaturity is refusal to understand my emotions and the reasons behind them. No one else has the ability to make me feel upset unless I allow them to do so. While all feelings are natural and necessary, they should never go unquestioned. If I want to make a snide remark to someone I love in a moment of anger, I can feel falsely fulfilled in the moment, but will remain just as angry and subconsciously guilty; plus now with extra tension. If I take time to understand why I am upset and know that all I really want is to be happy and at peace, then I can take the right steps to get there instead of succumbing to (the easy path) of drama and games.
Carpe the diem-duties. When I do a mundane everyday-task for someone I care about, it’s suddenly upgraded to a thoughtful favor and becomes something caring, happy, and more significant– as opposed to just washing the dishes or going to the post office. I then realized I could find the same feeling in doing any chore by applying the same mentality. I know I will feel so much better coming home to a beautiful and clean space, so why not be a doll and tidy it up for myself before I leave?
When I do things for others it’s a sweet form of approval-seeking that can benefit the two of us. While this is great, another person shouldn’t be required to seize life’s responsibilities and find fulfillment doing thoughtful things for myself. I enjoy knowing that I have control over the way I live in my surroundings. I can never blame anyone else if I am late on paying bills or have a mean hangover. Part of growing up is no longer playing the victim, doing everyday things for myself, and reveling in all the control I have over what I experience.
The golden rule. Everyone knows it, but few truly adhere. There’s a reason why every major religion preaches it: underneath everything we all just want love, respect, and to feel good. No one who is truly mentally ‘grown’ would find purpose in immoral selfish behavior. If I had to judge anyone on anything, it’d be the way they conduct themselves towards others. True natures are revealed, as well as the secrets of the universe…sorta.
On Staying young:
Know what to not be serious about. Basically, everything I have no direct control over shouldn’t be sweated. People will have their own behaviors and viewpoints and there’s nothing I can do about it, so why get all worked up? Being pissed off about something beyond my control is completely pointless; it’s allowing myself to play the victim. It’s all a part of the balance of life, and learning to shrug it off is essential. I wouldn’t want someone to come and try to change me, so why would I wish that of someone else?
And what of war, poverty, disease…? Caring about it is great, doing what I can within my own power is awesome, but continually stressing out over things outside my power is a waste of already limited time. Sometimes the best thing I can do is to just chill out. The world could use the influence of one more happy person.
There’s no set right way. Just because other people my age are doing certain things doesn’t mean I’m wrong if I don’t follow. I love seeing punk-rock grandmas and Hugh Hefner and centenarians who drink champagne for their birthday, and I can only hope to be such a zesty character when I reach my golden years. I won’t give in to the pressure of fitting in. I won’t suppress my true inner nature in fear of judgement. If it’s fun and harmless and makes me happy, I will do it. Life is worth it.
Stay flexible and curious. I don’t ever want to be so set in my ways that I cannot leap off into spontaneous adventures, or be closed towards trying out a new viewpoint or learning something new. Once I feel I know everything there is to know and no one can tell me otherwise, I am officially an old fogey. I might as well be dead. I will be proud to flaunt that the one thing I know for sure is that I don’t really know anything for sure. I want to be learning and engaging in new things until the very end. I will always be more than happy to hear other people’s ideas on life and will hopefully be able to apply a concept or two to my own precepts. I am a life-long artistic work in progress. Who knows what I’ll look like or be into a decade from now?
The best medicine. Smiles can win hearts and alleviate conflict, and laughter can solidify strangers into friends, cross cultural boundaries, and prove healing powers to science. Oh yes. Without humor, I am a frozen stoic. A friend once told me with disdain to grow up when I laughed at a fart joke in high school. (Not so) sadly, I will probably always laugh at fart jokes. I will also laugh at the silliness of everyday life, the innate cute behavior of animals, crazy human antics, and random stupid stuff. Because if I don’t, life will make me hard and crusty. Like a turd. And those kinds of turds never feel good to anyone.
I need to understand what makes me genuinely happy. Not momentary shallow joy or fake over-reliant fun masquerading as real satisfaction. The real test is to differentiate true happiness from pleasurable distraction, and then integrate those things into everyday living as much as possible. Things like not having to rush around, having a full and productive day, clean living space, and balanced social and alone time, lots of laughter, and deep conversation, will always launch me further than partying and eating decadent meals. The later two are a lot of fun, but they must be evened out by other things in order for me to feel like the decadence was truly enjoyed.
Life is meant to be taken apart and put back together, experimented with, seen as one big adventure. I will always guide myself towards living a life of true happiness and helping others find the same.
Like always: balance, balance, balance, and happiness, and peace.