We grow happier as we grow older, the Journal of Clinical Psychology reported recently. The Stein Institute for Research on Aging at UCLA San Diego found that between 20 and 90, people’s happiness levels rise higher each year while anxiety, depression, and stress steadily decrease.
Since I was a doubt-ridden depressive in my twenties who gradually gained more confidence in each decade after and didn’t begin to approach what might laughingly be called my potential until after I hit my late 40s, I think this theory is completely plausible. What I would like to know is why, and I have my own theories about that.
None of them are original, most of them echo the Buddha’s Noble Truths, and they’re based upon a purely subjective study of me examining me.
Buffeted by my emotions, never satisfied with my looks, chafing under a schedule of domesticity, I was a mess in my twenties, a role-playing success in my thirties, and a late-blooming adolescent in my early forties. I never felt that I was living the life that was really mine until I went to live in Thailand when I was forty-six. From that time on, my feeling of contentment and joy has taken over, in a way that I never dreamed possible when I was wrinkle-free and firm of flesh.
It’s taken half of my allotted time-span but I finally love my life, all of it. I’m happy with the way I look, I no longer think of weight as my sworn adversary, and my most treasured possession is my passport--I’m working my way through my third one in twenty years. The last time I used clothes-shopping as a palliative was when I. Magnin still presided over downtown Seattle, my shoes are shamelessly comfortable, I eat whatever I want whenever I want, and the only men I want in my life are my sons. I am the nightmare that haunted me when I was young and I love it.
I am certain there are women who felt this way from the day they were born, although I’ve never known any. My friends and I all scoured stores for the perfect outfit, lacerated our feet in shoes that were never intended for human use, spent small fortunes at cosmetic counters, and used up the rest of our energy talking about the men we thought we were in love with. Every so often we’d write something, just to prove that we were creative beings at heart.
We had one terror that struck at our cores and we rarely talked about it: menopause. There were articles about how to circumvent this end of the trail, usually in reputable journals of high intellectual discourse like Cosmopolitan, but the prevailing truth was once it hit, life as we knew it was over.
And, for me at least, that was true. What I didn’t know was that life would become immeasurably better.
So--the end of turbulent cycles of unfettered emotions seems to be the path to happiness. Big news there. The Buddha said that countless millennia ago. His way to achieve that was through the detachment that comes from rigorous meditation. My release came far more easily when a regular body function stopped.
Anger, fear, uncertainty, and depression are all still part of my life, but they don’t dominate it, Donald Trump not withstanding. As hormones changed, so did I. God, is it really that simple?
When I was twenty, could I have swallowed a pill that would have changed my biochemistry and subdued my emotional storms? Could I have had this happiness without the hurricanes? Or is this a result of them?
My theory is that turmoil is based upon desire, and so is the survival of the human race. Without desire, who would submit to the absurd complications of love, marriage, reproduction, nurturing? But with the hormones that feed our most basic human need come all of its attendants, the entire contents of Pandora’s box. When desire loses its ascendancy, so do all of its followers.
And that is where happiness comes from, just as the Buddha and all of the Christian ascetics and other divine madmen have always told us. Coincidentally desire’s ebb comes with age and makes that stage of life damned close to idyllic.
I can’t wait to turn ninety.