Are you happy? I think the empty nest years can be a mixed bag when it comes to happiness. If you’re like most empty nesters, you are reveling in the joyful freedom to pursue areas of life you may have set aside with kids at home. On the other hand, you’re also facing the physical changes that accompany aging, the challenges of reconnecting with your spouse, and then there’s always that minor issue (!) of redefining yourself after years of putting your kids first. (Yeah, there’s that.) I have good news for you! Several recent surveys, including the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index and the U.S. General Social Survey, show that we actually get happier as we age.
Both surveys found that well-being starts out pretty high in early adulthood, reaches a low point at midlife (hence the “crisis”), and then increases and peaks in the later years. They also found that this increased happiness wasn’t necessarily based on what people did, but rather it just happened naturally. What’s the reason for this increase? Honestly, I think realism finally hits home! The surveys found that the increase in happiness is the result of lower expectations and ambition, less emotional vulnerability, increased gratitude and acceptance and finally, enhanced problem-solving skills. (Oh, yay! That last one is the “wisdom that comes with age” we keep telling our children we have.)
Author Gretchen Rubin spent an entire year following the latest scientific research, the “wisdom of the ages,” and even the advice of current experts on happiness. In The Happiness Project, she writes about the 12 months she spent “trying to sing in the morning, clean my closets, fight right, read Aristotle, and generally have more fun.” She found out some amazing things over the course of her year, including that outer order produces inner calm (Vindication! Haven’t you been telling your kids this for years?), and that money actually CAN buy happiness if spent thoughtfully and intentionally. This book is laugh-out-loud funny. Honestly y’all, just reading it will make you happy.
University of California professor of psychology Sonja Lyubomirsky drew on her own research in writing The How of Happiness. She shares a comprehensive examination of what happiness is and isn’t, and delves into what we can do to bring us all closer to happiness using several happiness-increasing strategies. These include things like practicing optimism when thinking about the future, increasing gratitude in the present moment, and the critical importance of staying active to being happy. She also delves into the obstacles to happiness and focuses on how much of our happiness is within our own control.
In his book, Happiness, noted theologian Randy Alcorn dispels the long-held idea that God does not want us to be happy, but rather holy. According to Alcorn, the Bible is full of verses proving that God himself is happy, loves celebrations, and wants his children to be happy as well. In fact, God goes so far as to command it. This book turned around my thinking on the subject of happiness.
For me, happiness is always linked with gratitude. At any given time in life, we could all put together a balance sheet of blessings and trials, because life is full of both. I choose to focus on the blessings, and I spend time every day thanking the Lord for all the wonderful things and people he has placed in my life. (Yes, that includes each of you!)
“Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
1 Thessalonians 5:18
If you’re happy, and you know it, good for you! Leave me a comment below and share some tips. If the happiness struggle is real for you, I hope you’ll check out some of the resources I recommended. We’re all in this together!
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Photo by Megan Weaver.