There’s a reason why we wish each other a happy and healthy New Year every January—in our minds, the two go hand in hand. After all, how happy can you be if you’re saddled with aches, pains, ailments and illness? But aging happily has a great deal to do with how you feel as well as what you feel.
Our emotions—anger, love, pride, etc.—are what make us human. But if we can’t control the negative ones, they can also make us miserable. The ability to focus on positive emotions is important at any stage of life, but as you get older and face greater challenges it becomes even more critical. Good feelings not only make you happier and more resilient, studies show that they may actually extend your life. And since we know that having a thriving social network is very important to aging successfully, being happy and upbeat just makes it more likely others will want to be around you.
Of course nobody feels happy all of the time, but it is possible to focus your emotions in that direction. Try to cultivate these four positive feelings to discover more happiness now, and for years to come.
What is the most tranquil spot you can think of? A quiet beach with gentle breezes and a shimmering turquoise sea. A place that’s peaceful and stress-free. Imagine how happy you would be if your mind was like that place—calm and untroubled. If, however, you dragged all your baggage down to the beach with you, your island paradise wouldn’t be so relaxing. Neither is your mind when you carry around years of disappointments, resentments and bad feelings. This vision of the past is an anchor that will pull you down. So make peace with it, learn from it and move on.
There’s no happiness to be found by holding a grudge—only stress, anger and judgment. You’ll never be content if you can’t let go of the mistakes people make, as well as your own. After decades of living, working and having complex relationships, you’ve probably racked up a good amount of them. What good does it do you to beat yourself up about the past? Take what lessons come from it and apply them to the present and future. Anger only hurts us. In order to feel the power of forgiveness, you need to accept your missteps, learn from them whatever you can and then let them go.
What kinds of things make you feel joyful? A surprise visit from an old friend. A piece of great news. An unexpected thank you note in your stack of junk mail. Joy comes when something good happens out of the blue—but you won’t feel it if you’re not paying attention to the good things that happen on a regular basis. Living joyfully requires self-awareness. It means taking the time to recognize the pleasures of your life, not just once in a while, but all the time. So, take stock of those things in life which give you joy. Ask yourself, How can I create the situations which will bring this level of joy with greater frequency? What initiatives can I take to heighten the joy in my life?
Good fortune doesn’t come from a cookie; it comes from the thoughts and actions of the people around you. Gratitude is something you have to practice every day. That means thinking about the kindness people show you and the time and effort they put into making you happy. Acknowledge the people and acts in your life for whom you are grateful. Tell them. Show them. Gratitude to others also has a way of bouncing back, allowing you to be more generous to yourself. It’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy: the circle of friendship and love grows the more expressive we are for the big and small parts of life for which we are grateful.
Finding happiness in aging is a conscious choice, not an accident—and it all depends on the feelings you have about life’s rewards and the people behind them. By focusing on positive emotions, and understanding where contentment comes from, you can make good things happen, and enjoy every minute of it.