As I was reading an article on happiness—much of the tips I’ve heard before—the final fact caught my eye. It said that people naturally become happier with age, particularly after hitting middle age.
Being on the cusp of middle age, I was intrigued. The article mentioned a number of scientific theories: we remember happy memories more strongly than negative ones, we weed out people and things that make us unhappy and we focus less on goals and more on well-being.
This last part aligns with a theory I’ve been developing about capacity. In talking with friends in the 40-ish age bracket, it seems we share a similar feeling that our capacity to do things seems to be shrinking. The ability to multitask is fading as quickly as the age spots are darkening. Things that once were a breeze now feel like a windstorm.
What the hell happened? Is it age? Is it motherhood? Is it the increasing pace of society?
Maybe it’s these things or maybe, based on the research in the article I read, our decrease in capacity has more to do with happiness.
Life in my 20s and 30s was very busy, but I’m not sure all that busyness brought me happiness.
When I was a senior in college, I took the maximum course load, worked two jobs and was the copy editor for the school paper. I managed to pull straight As even though I was drunk four nights a week.
After graduation, I took on project after unrealistic project in my attempt to establish my career. Even growing and popping out a human didn’t stop me. In fact, the year following my daughter’s birth was also the most insane of my professional life. Motherhood certainly wasn’t going to change my work ethic!
Fast forward six years and just writing those paragraphs above makes me want to nap.
I grew tired of a life in which everything is intense and high priority. I thought it was burnout, but maybe it’s something more.
When we are young, we feel compelled to do everything. We accept every invitation, befriend every person, take on every job task assigned to us. We don’t want to miss a thing. Yet, so much of what we say yes to matters so little as we age.
My life today is much less busy than it once was, and yet somehow it feels so much more full.
I’ve adjusted to this slower pace in a way that baffles the overachiever in me. On the days when my to-do list expands too long, I feel way too easily overwhelmed. This floors me a bit, but I’m learning to accept it.
When our bodies and our minds are young, we think we can handle whatever comes our way, but maybe as we age, we hit a saturation point.
Maybe our bodies, finally say “look, crazy lady, you’ve abused me far too long and now it’s time to make some changes—or else.”
Perhaps as we get older, our capacity diminishes so that instead of seeing how much we can tick off on our to-do lists, we can focus on the handful of things that really matter. Our bodies and our minds must slow down so that we don’t miss a thing.
And by doing less, our happiness increases more.