For many people, the “milestone” birthdays pass unnoticed. Some throw a party on their 40th or 50th, others blow their savings on an overseas adventure. But for many, the psychological and emotional impact can be devastating. They may seem to accept it with grace, but this often a masks their dread. Counselors hear the same reasons: they feel trapped, time is running out, they have wasted their life, and it is too late to change.
Life Expectancy is Rising
In his book Growing Older Without Feeling Old (2015), Dr. Rudi Westendorp, professor of medicine at old age at the University of Copenhagen, argues that life expectancy is rising and will continue to do so, and that people should abandon the idea of a maximum length to the human lifespan. He also believes the public has failed to keep pace with medical advances. Forty should not be seen as the beginning of decline. On the contrary, today’s 40-year-old faces a different future than that of a 40-year-old three decades ago. As you blow out those 40 candles, scientists across the world are working on slowing and even reversing the aging process.
You’re More Free
Turning 40, however, does have its benefits. At last you have shaken off the lingering traces of adolescent angst. Who would want to be a teenager again, full of insecurity and self-doubt? In their 20s, many find themselves alone in a big city, away from family and friends, trying to “make it” in their career. The poet Philip Larkin once remarked that, as people age, they feel they are pushed to the margin as attention passes to the young. Larkin may have resented society’s inclination to do this, but it could be a blessing. When you’re older, the pressure is off and you are free to be whomever you like.
As the weight of expectation lifts, you gain self-awareness. You know the sorts of people to seek out, the holidays you enjoy, and the work that suits you. Most importantly, you have learned to say no.
Relationships also improve as you age. In youth, people are more vulnerable and confused, and they are more impressed by surface charm. By 40, they know that substance is what counts, and thus, friendships grow deeper and more authentic.
In your teens and 20s, acceptance is all-important. By your 40s, you cease to care what others think of you and no longer crave their approval. You begin to accept that not everyone will like you, and that it would be strange if they did.
Perspective is everything. You can view your 40s either as the beginning of the end or the start of the best part. Middle age has many benefits, from growing self-awareness to deepening friendships. And with advances in aging research, you may live a better life far longer than you had expected.