Turning 50 was a bit of a bugger – I found it more confronting that any of the previous big birthdays. It’s something to do with being half a century old, with the making of telemovies about political events that I can remember, and with my children growing whiskers and breasts (not, fortunately, on the same child).
It’s definitely to do with sore knees and finding myself having difficulties getting off the bus with my granny trolley.
But there must be something worthwhile about reaching this epicentre of life, some wisdom I’ve gained that I can pass on to my children. (And to other people’s children who are not as fortunate in their choice of mother as my own).
Given that so much of life is luck and genes – the way you look, how smart or healthy you are, who you meet, where you grow up, where you are at critical moments – I tend to think that the only wisdom worth sharing relates to things that you can do (and not do) that will lead to you feeling better than you did before doing them (or not doing them). So here, in no particular order of importance, is my list of things that are guaranteed to improve your life.
Accept that you can’t change other people (unless they really want to change, or they’re very young)
After nearly 30 years in domestic relationships, years and years of working with other people, two children and a respectable number of friends and relatives, I have learned that you can’t change other people. Unless they want to change. But even then they may not have the same ideas as you about what would be an improvement.
You can really only change yourself and the way you respond to other people.
You can change small children in some ways if you work hard at it, and are very consistent. (You should only be trying to change small children in good ways. And you can’t change their basic qualities; you’re just tinkering around the edges.
Eat regularly with other people
It’s good to eat alone sometimes. You can watch TV while you eat. You can eat out of cans and crisp packets. You can eat only chocolate and cheeseballs.
But it’s also good to be able to eat with other people on a regular basis. I’m not talking about candle lit dinners or gourmet extravaganzas. Just ordinary pasta or a thai takeaway will do. But it feeds something in the soul to consume food with another person – preferably someone that you like.
Find someone or something to care for
We are all looking for love –usually for someone else to love and care for us. But there’s a lot of luck involved in that, and (see above) you can’t necessarily make other people care for you in the way that you think they should
My experience is that finding someone or something else for you to care for, is more consistently achievable.
It could be a partner, but it could also be friends, or relatives, or an organisation or a cause. But you must get something back from the caring, some feeling of accomplishment or fulfilment or gratitude. Getting nothing back from caring is sainthood, and Australia’s already got one saint.
A dog is a good choice – a dog will always appreciate you if you do quite simple things like walking and feeding it. A cat not so much, but if you’re nice to them, they’ll generally sit on you and let you stroke them.
Let go of your angst about your parents
In the words of the poet – they fuck you up. Your parents undoubtably made huge mistakes, which linger on in your mind, and cause unhappiness. But they’re old or dead now. You can let it go.
It’s hard to do – you might need help – but it’s worth the money for counselling to sort it out. If you can separate yourself as a person from your parents, you’ll feel better.
Put aside some money to help your own children with their psychotherapy (just joking … of course we’ll do better).
Have a warm place to live
Everyone has different heat requirements. If you’re living with someone who feels the cold less than you, negotiate over the heating. My life changed for the better when we got one of those gas heaters with the false coals. We all now spend time together gazing into the false flames, relishing the easy warmth, and remembering not to throw scraps of rubbish onto it.
If you share a bed regularly with someone who needs lots of warmth at night, and you’re feeling like a boiled tomato – get a separate doona. You’ll still be in the same bed, but you’ll wake up feeling much more pleasantly disposed towards your partner. Then you can work on the snoring.
If your house leaks, get it it fixed. Might sound obvious, but I’ve realised that a lazy approach to small household problems leads to far greater disasters down the track.
Don’t eat too much food at one time
You’ll feel bloated and uncomfortable.
Don’t have too much stuff.
You have to clean it. You have to insure it. You have to care for it. You have to arrange it. It uses up time and not always in a good way.
Have things that you really like. I love my mobile phone. It’s quite small and requires very little maintenance, and yet it does almost everything I could ever want in a gadget. Technology is not necessarily a bad thing in moderation.
Driving is boring, stressful and dangerous. Avoid where possible.
Get a comfortable bed
I spent a number of years trying to sleep in a bed that was too soft for me. After I broke my back (not in bed I hasten to add), I couldn’t sleep in it at all, and I had to buy a new bed. The new bed is so much more comfortable, and is a pleasure to retire into. I tell you this so that you don’t have to suffer a major health crisis in order to sleep well.
Get a comfortable chair
Also, it’s good to have a comfortable chair or two – perhaps one to sit on at work, and one at home. Your back will thank you. Look after your back – you want it to feel positively towards you.
Do something that interests you – get a hobby
When I was younger I couldn’t see the point of hobbies – I thought they were the pursuit of losers compensating for a lack of friends and lovers. In my middle years, I now have a number of fascinating hobbies.
I used to think that I was going to find continual satisfaction from my work. Some of us have jobs that enthrall and delight us forever. Others don’t. However, we usually have to keep plugging away at these less than completely satisfactory jobs in order to bring home the tofu.
So a hobby that provides new insights, learnings or surprises is a great comfort. (Watching sport is not a hobby.)
Use online grocery shopping
Never go into a supermarket again. No more lifting bags in and out of trolleys and cars (see back advice above). No more supermarket checkouts. Less impulse buying. Lower greenhouse gas emissions. Employment for delivery people. You can chose organic or local produce if you wish.
You really don’t have to squeeze the fruit before you buy it. Anyway, these days you can’t because it’s encased in hard plastic shells.
Do 45 minutes of exercise per day
I fought against this one for years. All through my childhood I avoided exercise. In high school I took extra subjects to get out of sport. I never played a team sport. I actually can’t run at all – there’s something wrong with my body. I can’t do aerobics either, or ride on those exercise bikes, or use a rowing machine. I just get puffed and give up
However, I can swim quite a long way quite slowly. And I can walk a reasonable distance, so long as it’s not up very steep hills or a lot of stairs.
I’ve found that swimming or walking a long way every day, with the occasional excursion up a hill, makes me feel calmer. I don’t enjoy the exercise experience, but I greatly enjoy the calmer. The invention of mobile phones with built in radio playing thingies helped a lot – walking becomes more bearable when you can listen to a prerecorded radio program of your choice. Again, technology is not necessarily a bad thing.
Contrary to popular opinion, a dog is not really an asset to walking – they stop all the time to pee and sniff the bums of other dogs. But they are good at getting you up and out. If you don’t exercise them, they bury bones in your bed, and eat your ugg boots.
Find some form of exercise that you can bear, and do it every day for 45 minutes. You will probably feel better, and you will have something virtuous to report when the doctor asks you questions about your “lifestyle”.
Have your own bank account
It’s good not to be completely financially inter-twined with someone else – especially if you have an intense emotional relationship with that person. Keep a bank account with just your name on it.
Try to avoid the court system
The court system is a necessary evil for many things – murders for example, and domestic violence. And votes for women and Aborigines. And stopping irresponsible developments.
It’s not so essential for marriage breakdown, and for getting compensation for injuries. Or for complaining.
The court system works to the advantage of lawyers – the longer they can draw out a conflict, the more money they make. This is just something I’ve observed.
Courts can’t really tell right from wrong. They can only allocate responsibility.
Don’t stress too much about being happy
Someone wrote that you only know you’re happy retrospectively. I think that’s mostly true. Happiness seems to me to be something that happens to you, rather than something you can work to get. And when you’re happy it’s quite easy to forget to log it in your memory.
It may be the lapsed Methodist in me, but trying to be useful, rather than happy, seems a better thing to be working at. You don’t have to be useful all the time. You can sprinkle your usefulness throughout your life. But you’ll generally be able to tell when you’ve been useful, and it will give you a good feeling when you look back on it.
That’s the end. Thank you for reading. All comments very welcome.