Trusting The Journey: The Secret to Happiness in Middle Age

Being in constant control of everything. The older we get the more we realize how little we actually control. And there’s no good reason to hold yourself down with things you can’t control. Learn to trust the journey, even when you do not understand it. Oftentimes what you never wanted or expected turns out to be what you need.”

Neon sign in shop window that says "I don't know where I'm going from here, but I promise it won't be boring."
Photo from Logan Weaver on Unsplash.com

The above quote is from Marc Chernoff’s article, 20 Things That Will Matter A Lot Less To You in Twenty Years. I assume Marc is younger than me and is predicting the wisdom that should come to someone my age – 50+ – but clearly I’ve been a slow learner, and it’s only recently that his ideas have started to resonate with me.

I recommend you read the post in full, because there’s a lot of useful advice in it, or at least advice I’m finding relevant to my life right now. But the idea that struck me the most was “trusting the journey”, having been a control freak who tries to fix everything my whole life – as my sister recently informed me.

Indeed, it is only now, during middle age, that I am finally accepting that I don’t have the superpower to fix everything, nor should have. No one does, not even those with the money to buy (in theory) whatever they want or need. Money may be able to buy rockets, but it cannot buy your health – as Steve Jobs found out – or love or loyalty.

This is why we must learn to trust the journey, as Marc says, and not let the frustration around our inability to control what we can’t make us unhappy or bitter.

To put this idea into context, I have realised that two things have held me back in terms of accepting my lack of control:

The first has been my preoccupation with the past and the victim persona I have allowed myself to adopt as a result of childhood trauma. Perhaps, the tendency to self-pity is ingrained in my character, because I can clearly remember an aunt telling me that I whined a lot as a child. But that tendency to whine may also have been a symptom of my undiagnosed anxiety, feelings of insecurity, or need for perfectionism to feel in control. What I do know now is that those “why me?” feelings aren’t helpful and I have allowed them over time to detract from my happiness. I’m not negating the emotional impact of childhood trauma, but constantly looking back means you get stuck in time and struggle to move forward.

The second is the amount of time I have wasted trying to change my son. I wish I could say that I have spent a lot of time trying to understand his differences, but that would be a distortion of the truth. For too long, I have tried to change him to the son we anticipated – a clone of us, I suppose – and that has caused an enormous amount of pain for both of us. My abortive attempts to “fix” him and make him fit into the hole we expected him to slot into have threatened our relationship. Worse, I suspect that my attempts to carve out his future was a way to validate our lives in some way – like there is only one way. It has taken me almost twenty-five years to understand that he must make his own journey, take responsibility for his choices, and I must trust his decisions.

I could ask myself why I had to go through that challenge – and trust me, I have, many times – but what is the point?

Without question, raising my son has made me a better person

But if someone were to ask me if what I have learned from the experience of raising our son, I would say, (hand on heart) that it has made me a better person. And trusting the journey is a much simpler way of making the most out of this precious opportunity of life.

I now understand that happiness is directly linked to accepting whatever life throws at us

This narrative is about making the best of the hand we are given. It is about accepting that there is only so much we can do to control our lives and the lives of others. I’ve had countless why me? moments during my journey with our son and there’s no way I could have prepared myself mentally for the anguish we have experienced, but when I look back on the aspirations of my twenties, I realise I was lucky – I got exactly what I wanted, to be happy and loved, many times over.

So maybe we shouldn’t be so hard on ourselves. Maybe, we should set ourselves a lower bar and measure our success by whether we can meet our basic needs, the main goal of so many less privileged people in the world. Can we put food on our table? Is our health good? Do we have a roof over our heads? Because once our basic needs are met, surely anything else is a bonus?

The wisdom of middle age and the experience of a decade of renting houses have shown me that material things – and in particular, where I live – are minor contributors to my happiness. Living in Australia, a rich country where the main focus of the lifestyle is time spent outdoors, may make that more achievable, but for me the value of my home is in its functionalism. It is a place to invite family and friends that protects me from the elements.

“‘The good life’ begins when you stop wanting a better one.” (Nkosiphambili E. Molapis)

These days, “experiences” are where I choose to place my time, money and energy. Because, finally, I understand the power on the mind of a beautiful sunset, a walk in nature, a check-in from a friend, a new food, a new cocktail or an impromptu gathering of friends. They are the things that reset me.

A minimalist lifestyle is the key to happiness

I have that terrible habit of saying things like “It is what it is,” or “What will be will be”, but not as a suggestion that I’ve given up on my dreams, but rather that I’m finally trusting my journey, and I’ve never felt less pressure in my life.

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