happiness at forty

At middle age the soul should be opening up like a rose, not closing up like a cabbage. – John Andrew Holmes

When I turned thirty I wore a shirt that simply stated, “so happy I’m thirty.” Do you see it? At the time I employed sarcasm to disguise my anxieties about aging. I recall obsessively wondering what the next ten had in store. I wandered in worry about the impending shifts that my new marriage, an eventual move to the suburbs, and, if fortunate, a journey into motherhood would bring. In the midst of a crowded bar, in between copious cocktails, I decided that thirty sounded like a wonderful decade to change.

I turned forty a few weeks ago. I had no clever shirt planned and there’s currently no party planned either. This whole global pandemic thing feels as old and tiresome as my back, which has never quite been the same since I delivered my second. Yes, I became a mother. I live in the suburbs and I remain happily married. These days I don’t decide or affirm things in between copious cocktails, but instead via a single glass of wine mid Netflix binge.

The last ten years are a beautiful blur. But I’m not here to pontificate postpartum priorities, share carpool confessions, or swap PTO secrets. Rather, I’m here to declare that I worried incessantly and unnecessarily about a decade where most of the changes were beyond my control anyways. I’ve learned obsessing over the future is futile. Life is full of unexpected plot twists and character development sequences. This past decade has been one of multiple moves, new jobs, career changes, friendships, losses, children, a global health crisis, mistakes, lessons learned, and pivots in purpose and priorities.

The past ten redefined busy and reframed rest while forcing me to acknowledge a critical error I made in my twenties and carried into my mid-thirties: I didn’t celebrate happiness enough. What I believed was a need to change was actually a call to recognize and relish the small things that make life full and important. Moreover, while I was anxiously awaiting things I forgot to embrace the things happening all around me. My epiphany certainly isn’t unique, but I find it amusing that so many of us are anxious about growing older, but it’s through growing we understand and appreciate. And when the changes were out of control, I recognized the value in choosing joy.

When I make my kids lunch, I am happy. When I get the chance to write, I’m euphoric. When I remember the time my grandma held my hand for an hour and said nothing, I weep in delight. It’s entirely too easy to look at these things as mini memories or mundane moments, but these are meaningful pieces of my peace. These hodgepodges of happiness make the abstract wonderful as opposed to worrisome.

I am happy to be forty. I am grateful for the growth. Yes, life can be challenging, um hello 2020-present, but choosing to embrace and elevate happiness in my life has given me more awareness and assurance than any other approach. My wish for this next decade is to be so happy that it overflows onto others. Here’s to knowing ourselves well enough to look for, lean into, and love the little things. And here’s to understanding the changes we can’t control don’t need to be our undoing. If anything, it’s the beginning of building the happiness that feels like home. Welcome forty.