Granny Mentality

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One of my life goals is to be a really cool granny.

It’s basically my fantasy of the best way to grow old.

I like to call it “granny mentality”.  Not cranky granny, but powdery sweet-cheeked, pink-hued-haired, perennially patient, spunky granny who always has an adorable crinkly smile and quirky love for everybody.

The kind of granny at the grocery check out, smiling adoringly at nothing else but the miracle of being alive and that her apricots are being bagged for her.  The kind of granny that chuckles at hip hop blaring from cars and adores crazy fashionistas.  Even the hardest of hearts can’t help but love her because she’s so damn open and non-judgmental about everything.

The masculine version of this would be, as I’ve always imagined, a kind of Dalai Lama or Gandalf in a snazzy suit who’s full of gentle jokes, who chuckles kindly and thoughtfully in response to our stories, then offers timeless words of wisdom.

These are fantastical descriptions, but we’ve all seen real life versions reflected in spirited senior citizens who seem to have a kind of energy that belie their year of birth.  We secretly get a tinge of jealousy.  “Dang, I hope I can be that happy when I’m their age!”, I find myself thinking with too much seriousness; not entirely missing the irony as I do a speed-walk maneuver around two cackling fairy godmothers.

I am intrigued by the idea of adults who have regained the desirable mental traits of being a child, and thus in my opinion have the best of both worlds.  They have the wonderment and loving curiosity of innocence, but are far from being weak and naïve.  They’ve seen it all, they go through everyday life like all of us, yet they seem to magically lack the stress and burden that us whippersnappers carry.

And the best part about this is that it’s not just overly-optimistic — it could be more real than we realize.

Recently scientific studies have shown an increased sense of happiness as we grow older, with a boost at around 60 and beyond.  Despite common perceptions and unavoidable complications of aging, things are shifting enough mentally for them to tip their emotional scales in a positive direction.  And no, it’s not because they’re all batty or senile.

What’s going on?

This is what I’ve gleaned from articles, interviews, and a TEDtalk:

They have more acceptance of what is instead of fighting against it all the time.  They are enjoying the reality of the moment instead of being holed up in the past or postponing joy for the future.  They understand that time is limited so why waste it on being distracted by stuff that’s not even happening?

They have more emotional intelligence, thus they get less anxious or angry over what they know they cannot control.  They focus more on the positive instead and know what truly makes them feel good.

They appreciate the little things more.  It’s no longer about looks and vitality and impressing everyone.  They look at what’s right in front of them and are able to see all the beauty because they’re not so preoccupied with the things of fleeting superficial importance that fade along with youth.

They have a quality social life and savor ordinary interactions.  Once again, just fully enjoying what they already have, especially the kind of stuff we often overlook in our distractedness.  And they make time for these things.  The happiest are not tucked away alone somewhere; we as a species need interaction.  Having meaningful relationships is also a major factor in longevity in blue zones, where groups of people are known to live the longest.

Ultimately it seems like they spend less time caring about what the world thinks about them and their stuff, and more about what they think about themselves and their stuff.  They are finally learning to find joy within themselves and settle into exactly who they always were, instead of fighting or repressing themselves as they might have done in their younger years.  Who cares about what others think, they do what makes them feel expressive and real! (And ironically, we tend to give the most approval to those who are bold enough to do so).  When they feel genuinely good about themselves, they no longer feel a disconnect between themselves and others. Now that it’s no longer about competition, they’ve mellowed out and are more accepting of one another and everything around them.  They have tapped into the elusive internal happiness, and no longer put the external at front and center.

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It’s understandable that seeing mortality materializing on the horizon can cause great changes in ones mindset in life, but how do I harness some of this amazing outlook now?  Why does it have to take disease and aging to induce letting go of the vanities of youth and to understand how to live each moment more pure and fully?

I always assumed that it had to do with a kind of surrender — the kind that I didn’t want to experience yet.  I thought it would be along the lines of “I’m feeble and wrinkly so I might as well find my joy in whatever I can”.  I thought it would be like giving up on excitement and fun and just settling for what I have.

Acceptance is a big part of it, but there’s nothing that says you need to be over 65 and live an overly simple life to do so.  I thought about all the senior citizens traveling the world, trying new things, taking risks, working on their passions, and being enthralled while doing so.  Many of them are still happily in the daily grind — going about their day, working hard, playing hard, and never wanting to fully retire.

So if it has nothing to do with circumstance, what is it?  And why do younger people have difficulty finding it?

We think that we have to find happiness right now, which translates to chasing physical and financial gain, which shows up as stress and self doubt.  We are subconsciously allowing ourselves to postpone our happiness until we get what we think we need to be happy.  What if we just allowed ourselves to already be happy, while we work towards all our goals?  Who says we can’t?

I used to worry that if I found happiness in the moment, I would be too content to want to strive for anything more.  That is completely wrong.  Happiness in the moment doesn’t suddenly make me stupid, blind, and unambitious, it just makes me happy in the moment.  And that happiness is what fuels me to do better work, and be a better person to be around.  I don’t believe that we need to get everything lined up before we can enjoy the moment.  The moment is always here, and choosing to enjoy it won’t change anything else about our drive in life other than making it much more empowering, worthwhile, fun, and less stressed.  Wow.

On not-so-great days, I notice that everything is tinged with thoughts of lack.  I might be enjoying pho with my friend, and then think about how it would’ve been cheaper to eat at home.  Then I’d be happy about the nice weather while driving, then think about how I want to get a better car.  Later, I’d be working on what I love, then think about how far I still am from the most successful in my field.  Basically my rationale would be “why should I be enjoying this when I have so far to go?”.  As if allowing myself the enjoyment of the moment would mean that I’m being lazy.  No!  I’m just enjoying being alive!

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And these past few months I have been getting tastes of it here and there.

On my best days, when I’m most in granny mentality, I don’t feel like an enlightened being or something superior and unaffected.  I feel like something inside of me has unclenched.  I feel it in my stomach.  I feel more vulnerable, but not in a frightened way.  I feel much less self-conscious, and my focus is on what and who is around me, without it having to mean anything about myself.  I’m not in such a rush to make some kind of impression or say the right thing, instead I’m just allowing the moment to be an individual experience within itself.  I am able to practice seeing the humans beneath all the social exteriors. Things become less serious and more fun.  Meeting people feels like a cozy and fun event instead of one that should have a purpose.  Should someone say something off-putting to me, there is definitely still a moment of emotional rising, but instead of thinking I need to act upon it, I have a moment of pause.

Just a pause.

And in that space, if my mind is in the right place, I find myself in a bit of amusement.  I am able to center myself and see reality for what it is, and not make it all about myself.

Then I know I am in my granny mentality.

I think it’s definitely helped me to put a name and colorful character idea to a mindset.  When I know I’m being too external and selfish,  thinking of happy punk-grannies and their accepting, open-hearted natures helps to get me back in check.  Perhaps this could be a practice in your life?  Maybe it’s a different image, an actual character, or a mythical figure?

It is important to realize that we’re as capable as anyone else to find happiness within ourselves.   Why wait until our later years to discover this ‘secret’?  Life is already too uncertain!  Wisdom can begin to grow right now, right here, and it’s never too late.

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Older But Happier? 5 Amazing Findings from Recent Research

Stanford study shows getting older leads to emotional stability, happiness

Research: Older adults are happiest Americans

youtube-iso-colorLaura Carstensen: Older people are happier

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