What's the perfect age for happiness? : The Delights of Distraction No.95

The past couple of years seems to have been a blur of friend’s celebrating their big 4-0 and our respective parents celebrating their milestone 7-0. 

And as our younger friends, grudgingly - or kicking and screamingly, enter their 4th decade, we, like encouraging aunts, assure them that this is going to be the best phase of their life yet: a new 10-year landscape dotted with emotional maturity, financial security and acceptance. We try to abstain from bearing any offense when they glare at us, rub an aching knee as they bend over their gluten-free (because bloating), sugar-free (because impending diabetes) cake and tell us to shove it. 

The truth is, there’s the well-documented U-Bend of happiness, a longitudinal study in which participants were surveyed about their happiness levels. Once childhood innocence and joy faded (around age 20) there was a stunning trough in happiness until age fifty, at which point happiness started to climb again. Some of the happiest folks out there are in their 70s. Why is there this thirty year span of unhappiness? Blind childhood optimism meets adult realities. Stress about work, money, kids and parents. 

And then there’s expectations. We are sure that as children, many of you fantasized about becoming vets, athletes, Bollywood stars or astronauts. Now dreams have upgraded to being social media famous or to found a company that becomes a unicorn. You could call these dreams unhindered by expectations and probabilities. But somewhere along the way these dreams hard and turn into expectations. There’s that irresistible force of external validation. It gets even more murky when you add financial security, meaning, and mortality into the mix. And with expectations comes the attachment to specific goals: some are subconscious, some are inherited by our parents of gleaned from our peers, some are social media led, and others are downright arbitrary. 

“Middle-aged people tend to feel both disappointed and pessimistic, a recipe for misery. Eventually, however, expectations stop declining. They settle at a lower level than in youth, and reality begins exceeding them. Surprises turn predominantly positive, and life satisfaction swings upward.” 

We are unwilling to accept that in our 40s, we are in the midst of a 30 year happiness drought. So what pearls of wisdom can we steal from these wise septuagenarians? As we enter the last quarter of our lives, we lose our vitality, our looks, our sharpness, so it only makes sense that the growing happiness is an internal change, not external circumstance. According to this article, none of them coveted luxury they could not afford, moped over a slight on a bus or lost sleep over events in the distant future. They came to accept their strengths and weaknesses, gave up expecting to sell their company for millions and learned to be satisfied in their daily routines. They have fewer fights and come up with better solutions to conflict. They are better at controlling their emotions, better at accepting misfortune and less prone to anger. They cherished the small, everyday interactions, and set realistic goals.

So then, what’s the perfect age for happiness? We’ve learnt that “it’s the exact time that you realize how absolutely short life is” and “how completely lucky you are.” 

And now our collection of favourite links for the week: 

To read: Whether it’s moving to Goa, the work from home revolution, or the zero F*$#s given that come with maturity — we’re hearing a strong recalibration of ambition amongst our peers and friends. Whether it’s chasing that VC money or burning both ends to become a law firm partner, a new question is being asked: At what cost? While this great article goes one layer further, exploring the question for women, it’s relevant for anyone inquiring about their own motivations. And it raises that million dollar question - if you do reduce your ambition, what replaces it?  

One of the harsh realities of adulthood is that friendships — or any interpersonal ties, really — become hard to maintain as everyone is always busy with the mundane rabbit hole that’s…life. This is a wonderful piece about how we show up for others, even and especially when their everyday lives don't mirror our own. The best part: It comes with a lot of great advice without making you feel bad for everything you should be doing better. 

To joy scroll: These photos from the Nature Photography of the Year contest are awe-inspiring; in their prosaic brutality, and sweeping beauty. They further solidify the fact that we need to save up for a two-week safari and experience this majesty firsthand. Warning, the first photo is a bit graphic (but very cool). 

To listen: We searched for this episode from 2016 from the Tim Ferriss Podcast because Ferriss had mentioned in a recent episode that this was one (out of the hundreds) he’s done that has had a big impact on him. 

BJ Miller is a triple amputee and a doctor who counsels patients at the end of their lives. Miller shares how he continued to live after suffering a freak accident. He also talks about death and dying with much compassion and joy. He is an expert in death, but he’s also learned how we can dramatically improve our own lives, often with very small changes. When you consider tha he has guided or been involved with ~1,000 deaths, it’s not surprising that he’s spotted patterns we can all learn from. 

To ponder: “If You Can Say It, You Can Feel It”. For a long time, philosophers and scientists assumed that we humans have a limited set of basic emotions – such as fear, joy, anger – that can explain the range of feelings we experience. A more recent theory takes a different approach: We have infinite emotions, so long as we can name them. This makes for interesting newly coined words such as hangxiety (feelings of anxiety after a hangover) It has more serious implications, too: New ways of defining emotions shift the way neuroscientists search for treatments for emotional problems, like depression or anxiety. An eye-opening read

To quote: "We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. So medicine, law, business, engineering...these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love...these are what we stay alive for." - Robin Williams 

To wtf: A new Instagram account by Australian artist Damien Rudd is collecting Google Map screenshots of the world’s grimmest-sounding places, which makes for an excellent collection of weird travel destinations in Australia, like the US and Canada, there are many depressing place names that are connected to the dark history of early colonialism, and the mishaps of explorers and settlers, such as Mount Hopeless in Australia. There’s a lake in Colorado called the “Bowl of Tears,” a path only masochists might travel called “Road to Misery” in Maine and if you travel further east: “Cape Disappointment” and “hell for certain” road. 

To life hack: Our genetics apparently play a role of only up to 10% on our longevity and the rest is dependent on our lifestyle and decisions. Living long means we have more time to travel, exercise, spend time with family and engage in creative pursuits. In this guide, the Inside hook has researched 100 ways to live to the age of 100 by optimizing our lives through diet, fitness, better decisions and some wild cards. Most of them are common sense, but it’s good to have a ready explainer when you need a little more conviction to change your habits. Some of them include: - Settle down near a body of water to reduce your stress levels. 

- Don't eat more protein than you need as it accelerates ageing. 
- Use sunscreen 
- Breathe more through your nose
- Start strength training 

To cook: Once in a previous life, before the pandemic and Netflix, we were entranced by a TV show that had pretty much captured the imagination of the country, (particularly its men), thanks to the luscious host: Nigella Lawson. In one episode, she baked a Lemon and Almond Cake, that looked wonderfully moist, fragrant and exotic. However the one clumsy time we attempted to replicate the Domestic Goddess’ creation, it was anything but! 

With a little experimentation on various other recipes, we think we have found an easy recipe using home-made along meal that is both moist and fragrant with a little extra tang and texture. It’s all the evocative things the cake and Nigella Lawson represented. It makes a perfect dessert – or afternoon tea – or morning tea - or anytime tea. 

To end, 

For this time of year: 

By Mary Oliver 
When the blackberries hang 
swollen in the woods, in the brambles 
nobody owns, I spend 
all day among the high 
branches, reaching 
my ripped arms, thinking 
of nothing, cramming 
the black honey of summer 
into my mouth; all day my body 
accepts what it is. In the dark 
creeks that run by there is 
this thick paw of my life darting among 
the black bells, the leaves; there is 
this happy tongue.

Have a lovely week!

Viv and Ami

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