Trusting The Journey: The Secret To Happiness in Middle Age
Once we meet our basic needs, everything else is surely a bonus?
“Being in constant control of everything. The older we get the more we realize how little we actually control. And there’s no good reason to hold yourself down with things you can’t control. Learn to trust the journey, even when you do not understand it. Oftentimes what you never wanted or expected turns out to be what you need.”
The above is a quote from Marc Chernoff’s article, 20 Things That Will Matter A Lot Less To You in Twenty Years. I assume Marc is younger than me and is predicting the wisdom that often comes with someone my age — 50+ — but clearly, I’ve been a slow learner, and it’s only recently that his ideas have started to resonate.
I’d recommend you read the post in full because there’s tons of great advice in it or at least advice I’m finding relevant to my life right now. But the one that struck me the most was this one, because I was/am a control freak who tries to fix everything — as my sister recently informed me.
Trust me, you can’t fix everything
It’s only now, in middle age, that I’m finally accepting that I don’t have the superpower to fix everything — no one does, not even those with the money to buy (in theory) whatever they want or need. Money can buy rockets, but it can’t buy your health, for example — as Steve Jobs found out — or love and loyalty.
Money can’t buy everything
This is why we have to learn to trust the journey, as Marc says, and not let the frustration of not being able to control what we can’t make us unhappy or bitter.
To put this idea into context, I have realised that two things have held me back in terms of accepting my lack of control:
- The first has been my preoccupation with the past and the victim persona I have allowed myself to adopt as a result of the trauma I experienced in my childhood. Perhaps, the tendency to self-pity is ingrained in my character — because I can clearly remember an aunt once telling me that I whined a lot as a child, but that may also have been a symptom of my undiagnosed anxiety, feelings of insecurity, or need for perfectionism to feel in control. What I do know now is that those “why me?” feelings aren’t helpful and I allowed them to detract from my happiness. I’m not negating the emotional impact of childhood trauma, but constantly looking back means you get stuck in time and struggle to move forward.
- The second is the amount of time I have wasted trying to change my son. I wish I could say that I have spent a lot of time trying to understand his differences, but that would be a distortion of the truth. For too long, I have tried to change him to the son we anticipated — a clone of us, I suppose — and that has caused an enormous amount of pain for both of us. My abortive attempts to change him, fix him, and make him fit into the hole we expected him to slot into have threatened our relationship and I see now that I have tried to carve out his future for him to validate our lives in some way — like there is only one way. It has taken me almost twenty-five years to understand that he must make his own journey, take responsibility for his choices, and I must trust his journey.
I could ask myself why I had to go through that challenge and trust me, I have, many times.
But what is the point?
However, if someone were to ask me if I have learned anything from the experience of raising our son, I would say, hand on heart that it has made me a better person.
Trusting the journey is a simpler way of defining the best way to make the most of this precious opportunity of life. And what I love about the expression is that rather than define our mission around the social construct we have been sold in the west — that success is intrinsically linked to financial success — it redefines it as learning to accept whatever journey life gives us.
I now understand that happiness is directly linked to accepting whatever life throws at us
It is about making the best of the hand you are given. It is accepting that there is only so much you can do to control your life and the lives of others. I’ve had countless why me? moments during my journey with our son and there’s no way I could have prepared myself mentally for the anguish we have experienced, but when I look back on the aspirations of my twenties, I realise I was lucky — I got what I wanted. I have been happy and loved, many times over.
So maybe we shouldn’t be so hard on ourselves. Maybe, we should set ourselves a lower bar and measure our success by whether we can meet our basic needs as so many people in the world must. Can we put food on our table? Is our health good? Do we have a roof over our heads?
Because once we meet our basic needs, surely everything else is a bonus?
The wisdom of middle age and the experience of a decade of renting houses have shown me those material things, and in particular, where I live, are minor contributors to my happiness. Living in Australia, a rich country where the main focus of the lifestyle is outdoors, may make that easier, but for me, the value of my home is in its functionalism. It is somewhere to invite family and friends and it protects me from the elements.
“‘The good life’ begins when you stop wanting a better one.” (Nkosiphambili E. Molapis)
And ‘experiences’ are where I am choosing to place my time, money and energy in the future. Because, finally, I understand the power of a beautiful sunset, an inspiring walk in nature, a check-in from a friend, a new food, a new cocktail or an impromptu gathering of friends to reset me, which is why all those things hold so much more value than the size of my living room.
A minimalist lifestyle is a key to happiness
I have a habit of saying annoying things like “It is what it is” and “What will be will be”, but those expressions don’t mean I’ve given up on my dreams, they mean that finally I am trusting my journey and I’ve never felt less pressure in my life.