We’re still recovering from a jam-packed birthday celebration for my just-turned-11 year old. An epic slumber party, a family pizza party, cards and gifts and cake and singing “happy birthday” at the top of our lungs. And Ryder beamed through it all (well, except for the times he was weeping from being so tired after the epic slumber party).
This is the way birthdays should be, in my book. A chance to connect with people we love, who love us just for being born, and then do whatever feels like a joyful shout-out to this life we get to live.
But that ain’t happening with most of my peers.
The older I get, the more I’m aware of so many women who barely want to acknowledge their birthdays. While scrolling through kind messages from Facebook friends, they’re quietly feeling like another birthday is more of a life sentence than a life celebration. One step closer to their expiration date, one day closer to not achieving all they’d hoped.
I love the way kids can’t wait to get older, thrilled to the brim by all the potential that comes with a new year. But for middle-aged women, all those candles on the cake are more likely to represent the running tally in their heads: grievances, failures, losses, set-backs, wrinkles and the crushing pressure to make the most of the years they have left.
Research shows that, on average, our happiness hits an all-time low around age 50…and then slowly rises with each passing year. The happiest people on earth are 80 and older; they’ve had a chance to make peace with their choices, to look back and see the big picture, to accept rather than fight their aging bodies, and feel grateful for – rather than pressured by – the days they have left.
But I refuse to wait that long for happiness. Yes, I’ve made mistakes. Yes, I’ve suffered loss. Yes, I’ve cried me a river. Yes, I’ve been unkind to my body. And YES – all of it made me who I am, provided wisdom for the path I’m paving, led me to deeper love and connection, made me all the more grateful for little joys. There are huge gifts in the wrinkles. I know there will be more, many more. But there will also be fireworks and delight and glorious growth. And really good cake.
When I turn 40 this year, I intend to celebrate like a kid: thrilled to the brim by the potential of what’s ahead. And when I blow out all those candles that shine a light on where I’ve been and where I’m going, I’ll make a wish for me and you: for the strength to choose happiness in the now, in the aging, in this life we get to live.
This post is part of a birthday celebration for Susannah Conway, who asked a beautiful group of blogging friends to share our thoughts on aging as she enters her 41st gorgeous year today. My kind of party!