Dr Happy’s top ways to find happiness after 50

Life after 50 welcomes many changes, from where we live to what our day-to-day lives look like. So how can we look after our wellbeing and keep consistency as we welcome new changes in our lives? 

Author, speaker and scholar Dr Tim Sharp is a renowned figure in the school of positive psychology, taking on the moniker Dr Happy. Here are 9 of his tips on how to be happy at 50 and beyond.

1. Finding meaning

It is vitally important — particularly post-retirement and after kids leave home — to have meaning and purpose in our lives. A reason to get out of bed every day. Interestingly, there are specific words in other cultures to describe this, but not in the English language.

Many people create meaning in their lives through things like:

  • their relationships
  • helping others, or
  • giving back to the community.

2. Staying fit

To function fully and happily, we need to look after our physical wellbeing. Some level of physical activity is possible for most of us, and doing so will likely raise the quality of our life and help us live longer. We need to keep our bodies moving — crucially, the less we do, the less we will be able to do.

This doesn't mean you need to head to the gym every day, but rather incorporate any movement you are capable of into your daily life.

3. Eating healthy

The importance of diet and nutrition sounds obvious, but where do you start? There are many diets and competing expert opinions on what we should eat and when we should eat it. But there are three key aspects to a healthy diet Dr Happy focuses on:

  • eat whole, unprocessed food that hasn’t come in a package,
  • try to eat mostly vegetables, and
  • avoid overly large serving sizes.

4. Resting up

Getting adequate sleep is vital for wellbeing. When we're tired, it becomes much harder to exercise, eat well and stay positive. Many people sleep less as they grow older, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it's about the quality of our sleep. Ensuring your sleep isn't disturbed by disorders such as obstructive sleep apnoea is important for overall wellbeing.

5. Keeping your chin up

Research reveals that our attitude to life has a great impact on our happiness. We know that optimism — a realistically positive attitude to life, not a Pollyanna approach (eg, someone optimistic even in the face of adversity) — is correlated with happiness, health and better relationships.

For you, this might be your attitude to ageing. Research shows that people who view ageing as a negative process will perform more poorly, whereas those who continue to do as much as they can age more positively and maintain higher levels of health and wellbeing. The practice of appreciation and gratitude is a wonderful way to increase positivity.

Of course, staying positive is difficult when faced with physical illness or general ageing-related health complaints. Maintaining a constructive attitude and focusing on what you can do rather than what you can't do can make a massive difference to your mood, functioning and healing.

6. Connecting with others

 Arguably the biggest contributor to positive ageing is fostering and maintaining positive relationships, whether that’s with other people or the community at large. Loneliness and isolation are becoming increasingly common, and are unfortunately linked to lower life expectancy.

As people age, their social networks can start to become smaller. We retire, friends move away, families disperse and, later in life, loved ones pass away. We need to actively protect ourselves against isolation while these things are happening. This might include: 

  • reconnecting with old friends
  • joining local clubs
  • volunteering for an organisation
  • starting a new hobby, or
  • enrolling in a course.

7. Coping with death

Death is not something we talk about often in the Western world. But the reality is, our feelings about death can impact our wellbeing.

Death is an inevitable and painful part of life — reframing the way you think about it is one way of coping. We can use this thought to motivate ourselves to live a fuller life and make the most of what we've got while we've got it. It also helps to be realistic about death and come to some sort of peace with it.

In some cultures and religions, such as Buddhism, people are actively encouraged to meditate upon death and prepare for it. The way we cope with the death of loved ones and our own mortality can take a toll on our lives, so it’s worth thinking about how you can best cope with these notions.

8. Maintaining vitality

Having a sense of fun and play is wonderful for wellbeing. There is an old saying which goes something like, “we don't stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing”.

When people lose that sense of play, it can be very easy to slip into a mundane existence. If this is the case, finding something to laugh at — like a funny movie — can be very therapeutic. 

9. Enjoying closeness

When we touch people and animals, the happy hormone oxytocin is released. Unfortunately, we often experience less physical contact and intimacy as we age. If this is the case for you, try greeting friends and family with a hug, or treating yourself to a massage. 

Another wonderful way to experience touch is through owning a pet. Research shows that pet owners live longer, with pets encouraging a sense of calm and happiness.

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