Baby Boomers Need to Stop Making Happiness the Goal

Studies show that younger baby boomers consistently report the lowest levels of happiness with startlingly high rates of depression.

I write a blog based on the premise that these studies describing baby boomers as the generation dwelling in doom and gloom don’t have to be self-fulfilling prophecies. Instead of allowing these happiness studies to make us hopeless during our 50’s and 60’s, I focus on ways we can find happiness during these sometimes difficult years.

But can you try too hard to be happy? Should you make happiness a goal? Do you feel like the more you strive for happiness, the more it seems to elude you? Is the media making you feel like happiness is like a button you push for instant bliss?
These may sound like odd questions coming from a blogger who writes about finding your bliss.

However, one recent study showed those that made happiness a goal, reported 50 percent less frequent positive emotions, 35 percent less satisfaction about life, and 75 percent more depressive symptoms.

Maybe that’s why I’ve noticed lately happiness isn’t quite as trendy as it used to be. A few years ago, the science of happiness made the covers of Time and Oprah magazines. Happiness articles and quotes saturated the Internet. Striving for happiness resulted in a whole industry of life coaches, motivational speakers, psychotherapists – and yes, happiness blogs like mine.

But are you getting tired of pretending to be happy all the time? Are you sick of the media telling us to have a positive attitude no matter what’s happening in your life?

Jimmie Holland, M.D., a psychiatrist with Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital in New York, coined the term, “the tyranny of positive thinking.”

Sometimes it might feel like baby boomers are being bullied into thinking that if we don’t wake up every morning with an instant perpetual smile on our face – something is wrong with us.

Social media hasn’t helped. When I described some of the trials I’ve faced these past few years, a friend told me, “I would have never guessed. You look so happy in your Facebook pictures.” Yes, I suppose that I’ve fallen into that trap posting only photos that look like I’m having the time of my life – all the time. Of course, I’m not, but this is the fictionalized world we all live in with social media.

Commercials also make us feel like happiness is an entitlement. An instant feeling on tap that can be purchased with that new sports car or a new pair of shoes.

The truth is everyone has problems. No one is happy all the time. It’s like that quote from Regina Brett: “If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else’s, we’d grab ours back.”

The fact is, most people have it worse than you despite the happy picture they are painting on Facebook. So maybe it’s time we baby boomers quit comparing our ‘happiness’ with others. Quit making “living happily ever after” some kind of prize we all want to achieve.

NEGATIVE EMOTIONS ARE NORMAL AT TIMES

I was reading an interesting article, The Fallacy of Happiness, on Spike. The article pointed to a study by health insurers Aviva, that showed a quarter of adults in the UK suffer from stress, anxiety or depression and are not seeking help for it because they feel embarrassed by their “mental health conditions.”

“How strange it is that such normal, eternal human emotions as stress, anxiety and depression are now placed under the category of mental-health problems,” columnist Patrick West writes. “Schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, the clinical depression which leaves people unable to get out of bed for days: these are conditions that properly fall under the category of mental illness.”

He has a point. West contends that it’s natural to worry or feel low from time to time. These are normal human emotions that have somehow become pathologized.

All of a sudden, negative feelings are considered some kind of disease or aberration – something that must be cured right away. That’s become obvious with all the assortment of “happy pills” the pharmaceutical industry hands out like PEZ Candy. I mean, how did our parents and grandparents ever survive without prescriptions like Xanax, Zoloft, Prozac, Valium, and Ambien?

YOU ARE FINE JUST AS YOU ARE

Lancet, a prestigious medical journal, published a study on 700,000 women in midlife showing that there might not be a link between happiness and health as other studies in the past have claimed.

Even more interesting than the results were the reactions of people, Grumpy people were jumping for joy since they no longer had to endure assertions that their bad attitude was endangering their health. Others were irritated to discover all their efforts to be happier might not result in good health and longer lives like they thought.

But here’s the thing. The giddy kind of happiness we have all come to expect is not the norm. Life can be a struggle at times, filled with disappointments, failures, and challenges.

Many people who make happiness their objective are trying to avoid uncomfortable negative feelings that come with the normal ups and downs in life. We can’t be happy all the time. We baby boomers are old and wise enough to know that happiness can be fleeting and fickle.

Everyone has those heart wrenching moments when it’s impossible to be a Pollyanna. For example, a couple of years ago I wasn’t jumping for joy while watching my Mom die after suffering from a horrible disease. When I first started writing, I wasn’t exactly exultant when stacks of rejection letters filled my mailbox. Or ecstatic when people I loved betrayed me. You get my drift.

Should we still try to aim for a positive attitude? Definitely. Will we always achieve it? No.

Groundbreaking work by Iris Mauss supported the idea that striving for happiness may actually cause more harm than good. “When people want to be happy, they set higher standards by which they’re more likely to fall short,” she said. “This, in turn, may lead to greater discontent, in turn, lowering levels of happiness and well-being.”

Mauss explained, she’s not saying, ‘Don’t try to be happy,’ If you give people the right tools, they can increase their happiness and well-being, she notes. It is an exaggerated focus on happiness that can have downsides.

No matter where you fall on the happiness spectrum – which in part is due to your genes – self-acceptance is key.

Let’s face it, I’m never going to be giddy and giggly, but that’s okay. If you’re like me, a bit on the serious side, you can take comfort from studies that show too much cheerfulness can make you gullible, selfish, and less successful. A wee bit of unhappiness, in fact, can inspire us to make necessary changes in life.

HAPPINESS SHOULD NOT BE A GOAL

“Happiness is not a goal… it’s a by-product of a life well lived,” Eleanor Roosevelt famously said.

So, let’s all ditch happiness as a goal. Aim for fulfillment instead. Strive for contentment. Set your sights on inspiration and adventure. Search for purpose and meaning in life.

If you baby boomers make those your goals, you’re more likely to feel the joy and happiness you’ve been searching for all along without even trying.

10 Ways Baby Boomers Can Be Happier in 2018

How can you live your best life and be happier in 2018? Here are 10 surefire ways to help you hit the restart button for a better life.

Change Careers

Studies show that up to 80 percent of baby boomers plan to do some sort of paid work until age 70 to stay mentally sharp, keep engaged socially, and achieve financial security in retirement. That leaves a couple of decades after 50 to work.

Perhaps that’s why more and more boomers are contemplating an “encore career” to pursue their passions and create a fulfilling life they can enjoy.

The American Institute for Economic Research looked at people who changed or tried to change jobs after age 45 and found that 82% of people aged 47 and older who took up new careers in the last two years were successful, and 50% saw a salary increase.

“Don’t view your age or your experience as a liability. It’s a benefit to companies to have a multi-generational workforce,” says Oriana Vogel, vice president of global talent acquisition at American Express. “One of our goals… is to hire employees that can provide a variety of different perspectives and experiences.” Age doesn’t come into consideration when it comes down to hiring the best people, she says.

Enjoy Life’s Simple Pleasures

In 2017, International Happiness Day and the first day of spring coincided. How often does that happen? But do we really need a special day to find some bliss? I say that any ordinary day will do.

In 2018, let’s pause and enjoy all of life’s simple treasures and treats we look forward to throughout the day. Yes, we all have them! You know, the moment you open up your drapes and sunlight fills your home. The aroma of coffee in the morning. Those delightful blueberries on your cereal. The hot shower in the morning that awakens and refreshes you.

If you’re a baby boomer still working, instead of grumbling about it, enjoy your favorite song on the radio as you drive to your job. Don’t just sit there, sing along! If you’re lucky enough to be retired, enjoy some creative leisure time.

Experience happiness from the simple act of giving. Take a moment and write, text, or call a friend. Give someone a big smile to brighten their day and perk up yours as well. Make it a point to do something nice for a stranger or give someone a sincere compliment today. When you get home, give a loved one a big hug. Make your dog’s day with a walk around the neighborhood, a treat, and an extra pat on its head. Relish each bite of dinner. Watch the sunset. Enjoy your favorite comedy and laugh loudly. At the end of the day, remember each blessing and give thanks.

If a gloomy thought dares to enter your head this day, usher it right out and replace it with a happy, positive thought. No groans or gripes allowed. Mentally shout “next” in your head and move right along. Relish every day of simply being alive.

Break Through Barriers

Oh, the wonderful things that can happen when we break through our self-imposed barriers!

When I wanted to become a writer, I put a lot of barriers on myself. I was afraid that people would laugh at me because I didn’t have a college degree. That my submissions would sit in a huge pile and be ignored by literary agents and editors since I didn’t know anyone in the publishing business. That friends and family would roll their eyeballs if I dared to express my dreams of becoming a writer out loud. That I would become so discouraged by the countless rejections sure to come my way, I would give up and watch my precious dreams slowly fade away. Doesn’t everyone want to be a writer, but how many actually make it?

Instead of taking action, I was comfortable just dreaming about becoming an author one day. It was fun envisioning my novel on the shelves of Barnes and Noble and my first book signing. Until a woman at a writer’s conference asked me a simple but profound question. What are you waiting for?

With the woman’s words echoing in my head, I took the first step and began submitting my short story to magazines. Of course, I received the standard rejection letter which stung, but I continued on my journey, taking writing classes and submitting my work. The road wasn’t easy. Many of my fears came true during that time. I gathered enough rejection letters to wallpaper a room. Many times, I became discouraged and swore off writing. But I tenaciously pressed forward. Six long years passed before my first short story was published. Am I happy that I persevered and finally faced down all those nagging self-doubts and fears?

You bet! I’ve been writing professionally for over 25 years now. Over the years, I’ve been published in national magazines, authored three books (one of which was published by big time publisher McGraw Hill), landed an agent, won three journalism awards, and even had my dream come true with a book signing at Barnes and Noble.

This is the year to reflect on who you are and what matters most to you in life. Time to overcome your fears, persevere, and find the power to become the driver of your own life and personal journey!

Become Happy-Go-Lucky

The Urban Dictionary defines happy-go-lucky as a person who is cheerful about most things, has a positive view on life, and annoys the you-know-what out of their friends. Haha! Seriously, think of all the benefits of lightening up. You’ll be less stressed, have more fun, take more risks, step out of your comfort zone and because of your positive attitude have more friends and better relationships.

So adapt a devil-may-care attitude, be a little silly, laugh more, mellow out, and be playful! If you can become more of a happy-go-lucky person, I’d lay bets that you’ll find life more enjoyable and even more fulfilling.

Take a Trip

It’s no secret that I love to travel, so a new survey last year that listed baby boomers choices for top bucket list travel destinations caught my eye.

Of the 12,000 boomer participants, a whopping 99 percent said they planned to take one leisure trip last year. About half planned to travel domestically on multi-generational trips, weekend getaways, and holiday travel. Bucket lists inspired 43 percent of boomers to say they hoped to travel internationally as well.

Which places topped boomers’ bucket lists for travel? Hawaii topped the list for a dream domestic destination followed by Alaska, California, Arizona, and Nevada. The top international destinations were Australia, followed by Italy, the United Kingdom/Ireland, France, and the Caribbean. Are any of these places on your bucket list? No time like the present!

Interestingly, boomers enjoy dreaming about their trip almost as much as experiencing the trip itself. Part of the fun is planning!

Stay Positive Despite Adversities

is it possible to be happy when persistent, scary, and frustrating problems keep rising to the surface and smacking us in the face?

Adversity can make us feel stressed, upset, disappointed, powerless, angry, and depressed. Even when some or even most other aspects of our lives are going well, we tend to focus on things that are going wrong.

Instead of allowing damaging thoughts to build and grow in strength, find a quiet, peaceful place. Think of your problems and then forcefully push them aside. As Mark Twain wisely said, “Drag your thoughts away from your troubles… by the ears, by the heels, or any other way you can manage it.”

Research has shown there is a strong link between creativity and better mental health. Instead of stewing about your problems, do something creative and you’ll be forced to look inward and listen to yourself. It will help you shut out the world and its problems for a while.

Purposely direct your mind to focus on things that make you feel happy. You might recall something funny your grandchild did or said, reminisce about one of your favorite memories, or plan a trip for the future. Or write down five reasons you can feel grateful and force yourself to focus on those things. Put inspirational, happy quotes on post it notes and spread them around the house. Again, with a little practice you can train your mind to naturally gravitate toward more pleasant thoughts.

Of course, these tips won’t make your problems magically disappear, but they can help you better able to cope with challenges.

Get Rid of Clutter

Whether we’ve become empty nesters or are following the latest trend of decluttering, many of us baby boomers are downsizing.

Two years ago, we moved. As I was filling up trash bags and putting aside things to donate and sell, I felt incredibly FREE. Why hadn’t I done this sooner?

Conquering clutter can clear the way for a more productive life. Without physical obstructions like piles of unopened mail, old clothes, and Tupperware without lids in the way, you’ll be amazed how much you can accomplish in your life.

Aim for Long-Term Happiness instead of Instant Gratification

Instant self-gratification rules the world today. Think about ATM machines that provide instant cash, fast food supplying instant meals, the Internet with its access to instant information and entertainment – all of which has turned us into impatient beings that can’t tolerate waiting for anything.

According to a CNN article, there are two types of well-being. One relies on self-involved instant pleasure and requires continuous action to constantly feed positive emotions. This type of satisfaction typically leaves as fast as it comes. For example, buying an expensive pair of shoes creates a temporary high but to keep that euphoric feeling we must keep shopping for the next quick fix. If something threatens our ability to seek out this kind of personal happiness – for example, all our credit cards are maxed out – our entire source of well-being is threatened.

The second type of well-being is a kind of happiness that comes, not from consuming products, but from working toward something larger than ourselves that gives true meaning to life.This type of well-being can bring long-term happiness.

That’s not to say that we should never reward ourselves with a bowl of ice cream or a great pair of shoes as a special treat every once in a while. We don’t have to wait to enjoy the present or our lives.

However, we’ll all be happier if we develop some self-control and avoid the habit of wanting everything right this second. Constantly giving into momentary desires can actually make us feel depressed in the long run. Advertisers have become experts at convincing us that instant gratification is the key to happiness. Don’t buy it. Shoot for long-term satisfaction and fulfillment instead.

Embrace Hygge like the Norwegians

Despite frigid arctic temperatures and months of darkness, the happiest people on the planet apparently live in Nordic countries, according to the 2017 World Happiness Report.

Norway jumped up three spots to claim the title of “world’s happiest country” for the first time. Denmark, the previous winner for three years in a row dropped to second. These countries were followed by Iceland, Switzerland, Finland, Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Sweden. In case you’re wondering, the U.S. came in 14th place, dropping down one spot from last year.

Could the reason Norwegians are so darn happy have to do with the Danish term hygge? Hygge is also difficult to define, but is translated loosely into the English word coziness and is associated with relaxation, indulgence, and gratitude. However, Norwegians would probably argue there’s much more to the word.

Hygge requires being present in a moment – whether it be simple, soothing, or special – that brings you comfort, contentment, or pleasure. The word refers to the ability to enjoy the good things in life with people you love. Hygge can describe soft candlelight, comfort foods like a pork roast or home-made cinnamon pastries, sitting by the fire on a cold night with fuzzy socks, or simply being kinder to yourself and others. It’s about transforming an afternoon cup of tea into an event with friends. Some people translate the word as coziness of the soul.

So, go ahead. Eat that pastry guilt-free, invite friends over for a glass of wine by the fire, or luxuriate in a candlelit bath. Savor the moment and let the warm, fuzzy feelings flow.

Retire in a Happy State

My childhood friend was visiting me last year when she asked, “Where do you want to retire?”

I’m from the Palm Springs, California area, which has long been one of the most famous retirement communities. Snowbirds love this place with over 300 days of sunshine a year. Golfing, casinos, hiking, and cycling are popular activities. Places to shop and dine abound. In addition, a fairly strong economy and low unemployment rate make the Palm Springs area a popular destination for baby boomers and retirees.

But do I want to retire here? Not especially. Some people love the heat, but I’m not a fan of the long, hot summers with temperatures that exceed 115 degrees. However, I have time to consider my options. Like many boomers, retirement is nowhere in sight for me at the time being. But of course, a girl can dream, right?

So, what are the best and worst states to retire? The results from a Bankrate.com’s survey last year were interesting. Traditional retirement spots like Florida and California didn’t make the top 10 while other states, not usually considered as premier places to retire, like Wyoming and Colorado, made the top five. Honolulu is the 2nd most expensive place to live and Hawaii residents pay an individual income tax rate of 11% – the 2nd highest in the U.S. But if you can afford it, this state ranks high for happiness and personal well-being. New York and West Virginia rated the worst.