Happiness as We Age

We all know them: Those authentically positive people who are happy with their lives and themselves and fun to be around. We can see that their lives aren’t perfect and yet, there they are, upbeat, unbroken, and resilient. They’re not in denial about life’s ups and downs or ignorant; they have accepted what is, but won’t accept that that’s all there is. They know themselves, know what they want, and strive for it. This attitude and way of being are what I call “realistic positivity.” Happiness as we age is possible.

I’ve been a therapist in Santa Monica for over 35 years, and I’ve learned that those with realistic positivity keep improving with age — their happiness, health, achievements, and contentedness only grow. But, people aren’t born this way; we all have the potential to become like them. I believe realistic positivity is the key to happiness as we age, and there are a few things you can do to become this kind of person.

Realistic positivity is a mindset that helps us to grow better as we grow older and to create a life we love. Realistic positivity means we accept what is, but we don’t exaggerate our limitations or the obstacles we face, and we don’t underestimate our own capabilities. More and more, science and inspiring individuals are showing that we humans have seemingly unlimited potential.

Realistic positivity means seeing and accepting what is now—both in our inner and outer worlds—and then putting our focus on what we would love.

Try these four strategies for developing realistic positivity:

1. Put your perception in perspective

We often confuse our perceptions with reality. Our perceptions aren’t facts; they’re our interpretations of events and the conclusions we draw, which often aren’t based in reality. To overcome this, I think it’s helpful to look at each case’s best, worst, and most likely scenario. If the weather report calls for snow, there could be a snowstorm (worst), or sunshine (best), or a regular amount of snowfall (most likely).

Adopting a broader perspective is also helpful. Remind yourself, “It could always be worse.” The next time you’re feeling low about your life, watch a documentary about people struggling and surviving. It will instantly shift your perception about your own circumstances and give you newfound resolve — if they could get through it, so can you. There is always something you can do to make your situation better, even if it’s just shifting your way of looking at things.

2. Set your sights higher than mere solutions