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 is a quote 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 often comes with someone my age – 50+ – but clearly I’ve been a slow learner, and it’s only recently that his ideas have started to resonate.

I’d recommend you read the post in full, because there’s tons of great advice in it, or at least advice I’m finding relevant to my life right now. But the one that struck me the most was this one, because I was/am a control freak who tries to fix everything – as my sister recently informed me.

Trust me, you can’t fix everything

It’s only now, in middle age, that I’m finally accepting that I don’t have the superpower to fix everything – no one does, not even those with the money to buy (in theory) whatever they want or need. Money can buy rockets, but it can’t buy your health, for example – as Steve Jobs found out – or love and loyalty.

Money can’t buy everything

This is why we have to learn to trust the journey, as Marc says, and not let the frustration of not being able 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:

  1. The first has been my preoccupation with the past and the victim persona I have allowed myself to adopt as a result of of the trauma I experienced in my childhood. Perhaps, the tendency to self-pity is ingrained in my character – because I can clearly remember an aunt once telling me that I whined a lot as a child, but that 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 allowed them 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.
  2. 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 change him, fix him, and make him fit into the hole we expected him to slot into have threatened our relationship and I see now that I have tried to carve out his future for him 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 journey.

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

However, if someone were to ask me if I have learned anything from the experience of raising our son, I would say, hand on heart that it has made me a better person.

Trusting the journey is a simpler way of defining the best way to make the most of this precious opportunity of life. And what I love about the expression is that rather than define our mission around the social construct we have been sold in the west – that success is intrinsically linked to financial success – it redefines it as learning to accept whatever journey life gives us.

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

It is about making the best of the hand you are given. It is accepting that there is only so much you can do to control your life 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 what I wanted. I have been 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, like so many people in the world must. Can we put food on our table? Is our health good? Do we have a roof over our heads?

Because once we meet our our basic needs, surely everything 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 outdoors, may make that easier, but for me the value of my home is in its functionalism. It is somewhere to invite family and friends and it protects me from the elements.

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

And ‘experiences’ are where I am choosing to place my time, money and energy in the future. Because, finally, I understand the power 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 to reset me, which why all those things hold so much more value than the size of my living room.

A minimalist lifestyle is the key to happiness

I have a habit of saying annoying things like “It is what it is” and “What will be will be”, but those expressions don’t mean I’ve given up on my dreams, they mean that finally I am trusting my journey and I’ve never felt less pressure in my life.

The 7 Changes Necessary For A Minimalist Lifestyle

“A minimalist home is very intentional,” Joshua Becker explains in an article for Good Housekeeping magazine. “Each possession is there for a reason.” 

Simplicity. A glass jar with gum leaves on a white background.
Photo by Alex Loup on Unsplash

I’ve spent the past six months bogged down in the restructure of my manuscript, hence why I’ve not been as vocal on this site as usual. Anyone who has been through the visceral pain of editing 90,000 words understands the need to isolate yourself, without distractions.

However, you must also balance that sacrifice of your free time with the reality that years of hard work may ultimately amount to nothing. That was one of the inspirations for my last post, in which I purported the idea that there’s nothing wrong with contentment – a state of mind that seems particularly relevant right now.

Learning to be content with what you’ve got is important if, like me, you are the sort of person who is pulled in lots of directions, and regularly feels in a state of overwhelm.

That’s why why I’ve decided to take the idea of contentment a step further and I’m endeavouring to create it through the idea of living with less – the principles of which can be applied to every facet of our lives.

This approach is called minimalist

Minimalism, as most of you will know, is a style employed in interior design and decoration. It embraces a modern, clinical feel, with no place for clutter – and you can adapt it to your lifestyle as well. These days, the term is being used more broadly to promote the appealing, pared back lifestyle many of us aspire to live, thanks to the stress caused by COVID.

Joshua Becker describes the meaning of minimalism in his article What Is Minimalism? in the following way:

“It is marked by clarity, purpose, and intentionality. At its core, being a minimalist means intentionally promoting the things we most value and removing everything that distracts us from it.

I could argue that this new idea appeals to me because I’m a middle-aged woman, sensitive to my invisibility, and it’s much easier to simply opt out of society than fight the ongoing ageism and gender discrimination. Or perhaps it’s because, financially, we have cut our cloth accordingly in line with our personal decision to semi-retire early.

Both reasons are valid

However, it is obvious that younger generations are also embracing this idea to change their priorities, and while I admit that in the past I ridiculed couples on those sea-change shows who opted out of the rat race, I think they may be having the last laugh.

Our priorities change with age

And what’s not to love about a way of life that promises more time to do the things we love and happiness, and contributes to the protection of our environment at the same time?

So how do you become a minimalist?

The minimalist lifestyle is about living with only the things you need. Minimalists are free from the desire to buy and accumulate more. Instead, they find happiness in relationships and experiences.” Joshua Becker

It sounds like common sense, doesn’t it? But it’s not simply about sacrificing your day off for a spring clean in your home – although, that’s a good starting point.

No, there’s a little more to simplifying your life than decluttering. There’s a lot of mental work that needs happen and ingrained habits that need to change. And for some people, it can be hard to know where to start.

So to help you out, below are seven changes that are working for me:

  1. Being more intentional. First of all, you must really think about the purpose of your decision and what you intend to gain from it. Intentionality means basing your changes on what you want in your life, not what your kids or friends expect from you, or even what your partner wants. This is your life – and if your partner doesn’t agree with your choices, remove them with the rest of the clutter.
  2. Forget about owning stuff and consumerism. This is difficult for me. When I’m in a funk, my weakness is my compulsion to buy new things for that sense of instant gratification. As a creative, I also get a huge kick out of simply wandering around to mall and looking at beautiful things. Where I am making changes in this area is by buying less crap and only quality things I really need or recycled goods.
  3. Change your mindset and your priorities. A bout of depression or serious anxiety is the best push to make changes in your life – but I don’t recommend them. Instead of waiting for either of those to happen, prioritise things in your life that promote wellness and good health. Step into nature as much as possible, listen to inspiring or entertaining podcasts, exercise or meet up with friends for some free therapy. Make the time to switch off and relax, and don’t feel guilty about it.
  4. Stop worrying about what others think. Remove toxic people from your life. People who don’t understand your choices, value your opinion, or who you can’t have a discussion without them shouting back at you, are not conducive to a minimalist lifestyle. Your friends should treat you with the same consideration you treat them.
  5. Stop competing with others. Forget about the Jones’. The ugliest part of our consumerist society is the way we pit people against each another, and social media has exacerbated the problem. In my thirties and forties I made myself miserable by comparing myself to others who had more, and when I attempted to keep up with them, all that did was make me unhappy. The qualities I envy in my friends now couldn’t be more different to the ones that impressed me when I was younger.
  6. Be grateful. I have why me days, where all I do is moan about what I haven’t got, or why shit seems to always happen to me, but I’m getting better at putting those negative thoughts into perspective. Feeling sorry for yourself is completely valid, as long as you don’t let the negativity overtake everything else.
  7. Create processes – I have a scatty brain, particularly right now, during menopause, and the days I don’t organise myself and write a to-do list, I achieve much less. Of course, it’s much easier to get distracted when you work from home – like many of us do now. One minute, I’m writing, the next I’m flicking through social media, the next I’m playing with the dog. But you must be accountable to yourself for how you prioritise your time. You don’t have to be productive all of the time – far from it – you just need to be productive when you must be. Having processes means you’re not always chasing your tail, and you’re more likely to feel a sense of fulfilment at the end of each day. The old man and I share the chores in our home – like walking the dog, emptying the dishwasher and the cooking – and being organised prevents resentment building, and makes that first Gin and Tonic each evening even more special.