What’s Your Attitude Toward Aging?

Since I just celebrated a birthday a few days ago (not one with a 0 on the end of it, but one with a 5 on the end of it!), I’ve been thinking about getting older. I have been told that this birthday marks my “real” adulthood. I have been asked if this birthday bothers me, because for others apparently this birthday can signify the start of feeling “old.”


We have a lot of attitudes and feelings about aging. For many years, we’re supposed to desire it. We can’t wait to hit 13 and be a teenager. 16 and drive a car. 18 and be an adult. 21 and drink. 25 and be told we’re not a kid anymore. Somewhere around 30, the narrative starts to shift, and we’re expected to start dreading birthdays.


No one wants their knees to creak and their necks to sag (or anything worse than their neck!). But resentment about getting older, while totally normal, is actually counterproductive. Fearing a big birthday is like trying not to think about a pink elephant, right? Once it’s in your mind, it’s all you CAN think about. And when you put all your focus on something negative like that, it builds up in your mind to be a worse tribulation than it actually is.


There are two main reasons you ought to shift your attitude about aging. The first is that – like it or not – you WILL get older. Studies show that focusing on something you can’t change is a happiness-killer. Don’t waste your time on a futile effort. You can’t change the fact that every 365 days you’re going to age 1 year. You CAN do things to feel younger, look younger, act younger… whatever you want. But you can’t actually stop time, and wishing you could is just going to make you frustrated.


The second reason behind this attitude shift is that aging has positive effects, too. You just can’t notice them if all your focus is on the negative. But getting older means you are more secure in life. It usually means you have stable relationships and friendships, rather than all the drama of youth. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t change that for the world! It also means you likely have achieved a measure of success, whether that’s in your career, or raising children, or giving back to the community (or maybe all of the above!) So instead of going to bed at night going “Why am I here? What am I going to do with my life?” you go to bed thinking, “Man, I’m exhausted from everything I’ve done.” (I know, that’s a pain, too, but at least you have found your purpose in life.)


As a cancer survivor, I have an extra, third reason for having a good attitude about birthdays: I’m just happy for each and every one. I thought I might not make it to 27, so each year is a little gift unto itself.


Focusing on only the negatives AND focusing on something you can’t change is a surefire recipe for sadness. I’m going to celebrate this year, and I don’t even care if you see my laugh lines while I’m doing it!