Self

How To Be Happy With Who You Are — Even When Social Media Says You're Not Good Enough

Photo: rido / shutterstock.com
Lovely Black woman in orange hair wrap, smiling joyfully

I was just minding my own business, whiling away some time online. As I read a book review, up popped an ad: “Finally, A Great Lipstick For The Mature Woman.” Huh. 

Later, on a weather app, another ad: “Trendy Dresses for Older Women.” Google, as always, was minding my business right along with me. And, frankly, getting a little personal about my age!

It’s not just the internet pointing out your age. Reminders of who the world thinks we ought to be are everywhere, and that includes the people around us. From the physician telling you after you’ve fallen that hiking is something to reconsider, to the endless griping about the gerontocracy in our government, people tell us we’re old and there’s stuff we just shouldn’t be doing anymore.

These messages about the dos and don’ts of aging have effects. Ageism abounds and it can impact your health negatively. It can even shorten your life — but it's in your hands to control how you think about it.

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Ageism: a self-fulfilling prophecy?

If you believe the ageism messages saying you can no longer do certain things and be a meaningful member of society, it’s the self-fulfilling prophecy on steroids. The self-fulfilling prophecy is the idea that when you think something is going to happen, then it’s pretty easy to alter your behavior to align with that belief.

"Oh, I’m too old to learn a language? No point trying to learn Italian." This kind of thing.

In fact, research has shown that as we age, we tend to experience higher levels of well-being, greater satisfaction with life and even more emotional stability.  

My collection of interesting tidbits picked up on the internet shows people doing all sorts of things at ages we would have thought impossible only a few years ago. There are runners and athletes of all stripes who are well into their eighth, ninth and even tenth decades on the planet. There are writers, painters and various other artists of all ages.

One frequently hears about regular folks who work at Walmart at 70 just to have something productive to do, take their grandkids to ballgames and foreign lands at 80, do Wordle at 90, in four languages, none of which they speak, or learn to play an instrument in retirement.

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4 ways to say 'no' to ageism

There are a number of factors that align with active participation in life, regardless of your age. These are some of the things that matter.

1. Use your wisdom.

Wisdom is a character strength that includes creativity, judgment and perspective. Some people have it when they’re young, but it frequently comes with age.

  • Relish the judgment and creativity that come with age. Maybe you don’t produce as much or work as much, and you don’t have the physical strength you used to have. You’ve probably learned that, in most things, it’s quality that’s of value, not quantity. Being able to investigate ideas and combine them creatively often comes easier with time and experience. Slow and steady really can win the race.
  • Embrace the perspective you’ve acquired. When you run your marathon, slower than before, you can be the calm, wise presence for the jittery newbies standing around you as you wait for the starting gun. You are the all-knowing guru in the office or the therapy room (not to be too self-referential), or consultant who has seen everything, or the grandparent who can listen and dole out sage advice knowing kids don’t listen to their parents. You have the vantage point to know that there are things more important than work.

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2. Be intentional in how you spend your time.

Time affluence is the sense that you regularly have ample time available in your life. While not everyone has more time as they age, with children out of the home, or less time spent working, many do.

  • Choose your activities wisely. Recognize that you can make choices. Create time to think, be in nature or piddle around without technology. These all enhance wellbeing.
  • Pay for people to do things you don’t like doing. It’s a great way to have more time if you can afford it. For me it’s the housecleaners, for you...you get to choose.
  • Be clear that you have time affluence. It will enhance its positive impact. When I first read about the concept it made me realize that I may not be wealthy, but I do have the luxury of time. Being aware of that luxury feels good.

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3. Do what makes you happy.

While it’s true that we often don’t know what is going to make us happy, there are some things that appear to create happiness and seem age-proof.

  • Challenge yourself. The thing about the aging athletes, CEOs and travelers is that they continue to challenge themselves despite aches, pains and having less energy. Swimming from Cuba to Florida is insane at any age, but bravo Diana Nyad, 64, the first to do it without a cage (talk about swimming with sharks). It was a dream of hers and she made it happen. Facing challenge is easier when you’re older. You already know what it’s like to fail and that you’ll survive.
  • Indulge your curiosity. Take the class—so what if you’re the oldest person there as I’m quite sure I was at a recent yoga workshop. No one cared. Someone come up to me at the end to say, “No one should let that white hair fool them…you killed this.” Try the instrument, see what painting or birdwatching is like, go to Patagonia. There are so many opportunities if you’re willing to try something new. You don’t have to find the right instrument or the perfect trip because you know perfection is unattainable. Each experience brings its own rewards.

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4. Connect with community.

As positive psychologist Chris Peterson said, “People matter.”

  • Relationships are among the most important factors contributing to well-being and mortality. It is so important to connect with friends and family. They will appreciate it more than you imagine, as the research shows.
  • Casual conversations, like talking with the barista or exchanging pleasantries while in line at the store, are also associated with happiness.
  • A recent study of our close relatives, female monkeys, has shown that they live longer when they are better integrated into the social fabric of their tribe. Other work has shown that women may live longer because they rely on friends to cope.

Take charge of your life in these ways and you define what being 65, 75 or 85 means. Glenn Close won a Golden Globe at 71. Clint Eastwood made a film at 91. Warren Buffett is the CEO of a multinational corporation, at 91. And, of course, at 87 there was the late Supreme Court justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

These icons all made their own rules. So can you, no matter what Google thinks.

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Judith Tutin, PhD, ACC, is a licensed psychologist and certified life coach. Connect with her at drjudithtutin.com where you can request a free coaching call to bring more passion, fun and wellness to your life.

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