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At 50, new thoughts on ‘life after birth’

Editor’s note: This column by Dr. Delise  Dickard will appear in Sunday’s Healthy Living section.

BY DR. DELISE DICKARD

Recently I heard a really interesting thought:  “We contemplate much about the issue of life after death, but how much time do we spend thinking about life after birth?” Are we really living our “life after birth?”  Or are we just running around in a fog, trying to accomplish all the many things on our to-do lists?

At the time I heard this I was just about to round an important birthday milestone that can send some people into a bit of a slump.  But I’ll just say it with pride—I turned 50!

 Fortunately, I have a wonderful group of girlfriends who turned 50 around the same time, and those who went before me have shown me just how wonderful life can be.  If it changed them at all, it was for the better.

My husband secretly arranged a bit of a surprise and, suddenly, without expecting it, I was surrounded by a wonderful group of friends who were singing “Happy Birthday” to me.  My first inclination was to be embarrassed.  Before 50, I was not fond of that much attention.

But in that moment—just after the first five words of the song—I decided my “after 50” would be different.  I fully enjoyed the rest of this sweet musical tradition.  I heard the warmth in my friends’ voices, and I still remember the glow on each face.

Bulging with the wisdom that comes after 50,  I quickly learned a few things—and thought I would share them with you.  Some of the ideas below come from a book my husband gave me called “Fifty Things to Do When You Turn Fifty.” Once the book got me thinking, with my newfound, after-50 wisdom, I came up with some ideas myself. Here’s my new wisdom:

Take every compliment home with you.  There’s no more time for turning compliments down—no time for shunning them off with humility or embarrassment.  If someone says something nice,  respond with a simple “Thank you”  and that will do just fine.  Believe it. Take it home.  And don’t forget to remember that compliment later when you are feeling blue.

Free yourself of unnecessary baggage.  Take a good look at the psychological baggage you’ve been dragging around all your life.  Maybe you need to shed the “I’ll never look good until I lose 30 pounds”  mantra, or “My parents didn’t praise me enough so I’ll never measure up” refrain.  If you can’t shed this baggage on your own, please call me—I know a few good therapists who can help with this.

Consider yourself old enough to say what you really think.  Remember that you can say it nicely.  But stop putting off being a real participant in life. There’s no point in waiting until you feel confident enough to speak your mind. Start living your ‘life after birth’ now.  If you don’t feel as confident as you look, then welcome to the club.  There are plenty of us out here.

Give up trying to figure out what other people think.  If you are a people-pleaser like me, then you probably know the feeling of being bombarded with the possible negativity others might attribute to your words or actions.  If we can accept that people will judge us no matter what we do, then we can finally let go of the burden of pleasing them.

Laugh harder and louder than anyone else in the room.  Laughter is good for you, and when people hear other people laugh, it’s more contagious than the flu—and much more fun.  Studies show that even if the original joke wasn’t funny, the physical act of laughing is really healthy and the benefits help your body and spirit in long-lasting ways.

Be twice as nice to the people who stick around, even when you are cranky.  Most of us struggle with the irony of being really nice to strangers and hardest on the people we love.  Maybe it is time to change that pattern.  If you are feeling low in good energy and there is only so much to go around, share it with the ones you love first.

Give yourself permission to make mistakes.  If you live long enough, you will make a mistake or two—or two hundred.  We can learn from mistakes and move on, or we can beat ourselves up mentally until we make a bigger one later.  If we are so preoccupied with a former mistake, then we are more likely to make another one.  Like the idea of shedding some old baggage, maybe we can learn to forgive ourselves for being human.

Always wear whatever you darn well please.  I’ve been pretty good at this for a while.  Sometimes I love to dress up and sometimes I just want to be comfy.  So don’t mind me if you see me at a bonfire in rhinestone earrings or in the grocery store in my pajamas!

Be proud and happy for every year you’ve lived.  I think the idea that “getting older is a bad thing” first emerged from a group of advertising executives wanting us to spend vast amounts of money preventing the inevitable.  Maybe we want to stop buying that garbage. One year older is one year wiser.  There’s not one thing on the drug store shelf that can give us that year of wisdom.

My husband is only 49, and I caught him secretly reading my after-50 book. Of course, I grabbed it immediately, screeching:  “You can’t read this!  You aren’t old enough yet.  You wouldn’t understand it.”

But he begged to differ.  “I need it now.”  Eventually, I conceded.

So, whether you are 20 or 40 or 80, feel free to take any of this “after 50” wisdom home with you.  We all have the opportunity to know deep in our heart that, at any age, we have the privilege to really live our life after birth.

Dr. Delise Dickard welcomes reader comments and questions. For contact information, see riversidecounseling.org.

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