I took an Adulthood and Aging class in college. We spent a lot of time on life development stage models and specifically the literature around what makes people happy.
The general takeaway was that as you get older, you get better at life, your relationships improve, you become more self-assured, and… you settle.
The people that don’t “settle,” that don’t learn to adjust their expectations end up unhappy. Settle might be an unfair word, more on what I mean there in a minute.
Looking at the more recent (last 10 years) research, there’s an increasingly well observed phenomenon called the “U” curve to happiness over the lifespan.
It’s more like a cursive u shape graph where happiness sort of peaks in your twenties, dips in your 30s/40s and then rebounds in your 60s/70s for another high.
The theory being that life happens, responsibilities grow, and for those that adjust their expectations (which is an uncomfortable process we go through during the dip in the “u“), we ultimately “find” more happiness.
The commonly cited elements at play here: something like getting better at knowing and being more comfortable with yourself, getting better at improving the quality of relationships, getting better at taking care of your health. Basically getting better at knowing and working doing what matters and getting more right-sized.
I remember thinking in class, “I’ll never settle,” secretly resolving to be ambitious and uncaring about happiness throughout the lifespan.
Oh, younger Jim.
If only you knew that by being hard on yourself and white knuckling everything you’d just make it harder. That being kind and easier on yourself would leave you with more energy and openness to being excited about the life things.
And so I think about New Years resolutions every year in that context.
I take them seriously to a point of near embarrassment. I write down all sorts of lofty goals, but then like most people I imagine, at some point, readjust my expectations and go back to a sort of status quo. As I get older, going into them, I also know myself better, that I’m going to do this, and to account for that in deciding what I really want out of the upcoming year.
The thing I love about habits, is that getting good at being aware of them is a fun way to get to know yourself better. It’s good living.
Paying attention to goals, managing moods, energy, and ability to develop a new process for achieving something (or see what sidetracks it) gives us a better pulse on what we’re capable of, what’s likely to get in the way, and how to ultimately get where we want to go.
Failures just become experiments with unexpected results that need more tinkering. And in that spirit, this year, I’m really just looking for small improvement:
- More joy around life
- being a better husband
- having more quality time spent with family and making new friends
- making more money than last year
- writing 365 posts this year
- becoming a certified Neo4j developer and better in Python than I currently am in PHP/JS
- along that vein, learning data science and machine learning things that are useful to my target market
- developing some intellectual property around using knowledge graphs for content strategy purposes
- make a meaningful impact on 10 clients’ businesses
- buy a second home in the Catskills
- spending a few months traveling
- doing Jiu jitsu three days a week
- launching a couple info products
- growing a big email list
- oh, definitely want to start meditating everyday
- doing uncomfortable things
- write a book
- read 50 books
- eating less meat
- cutting out sugar, or at least refined sugar