photo by Richard Perez

photo by Richard Perez

Some of us spend a lot of time and money to look younger than we are. We want to convince other people that we’re not our biological age. While this can be an amusing – and expensive – game, it seems to me that we’re missing the point. Isn’t it more important to FEEL younger as we grow older?

If our biological age is 40, we look 30 but feel 80: what’s the point? This column is about feeling young and youthful as we get older.

In my experience, most people who live long and healthy lives have a purpose: they’ve found a meaningful place for themselves in the world they live in. I once had a client who had lots of money, cars, homes…but found himself watching TV all day. He told me that he wasn’t interested in anything. I suggested that we focus on finding something that stimulated him.

Stimulation = aliveness. Without stimulation, there’s no point in getting older. Your stimulation can be your rose garden, career, travels, volunteer work, etc.

As we age, the things that used to excite us often change. As we leave outdated pleasures behind, what do we replace them with? What excites us now? What do we feel energized by?

Feeling youthful is feeling alive. Feeling alive is being active in the world. The energy of youth is that of expression and creation. Ironically, as we age and gain wisdom, we often understand how best to use our resources and talents. But we may hold ourselves back due to self-doubt and a lack of confidence.

At age 20 most of us feel invincible. At age 30, we still feel incredible. But, for many of us, once we pass 40, we feel insignificant. We question our career choices, over-analyze our friendships and worry about a decreasing sexual drive as grieve the passage of our “youth”.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

As we age, many of us become discouraged: “I’ll never become (insert your fantasy career goal here) or have the kind of relationship I always wanted. It’s all downhill from here.”

This kind of despair is hard on our mind and body. Instead, we can use our hard-won wisdom to get re-motivated and create the kind of life we want NOW as opposed to the life that ended in disappointment as our youthful fantasies crashed and burned. So, we didn’t become president of the company or the first female billionaire: what is it that we want NOW?

A healthy mid-life “crisis” (whether you have it at 30, 40 or 50) is more like a tune-up. You don’t need to dye your hair, buy an overpriced sports car or dump your partner for someone much younger. Instead, maybe it’s time to go to the gym less and try something you enjoy more, like yoga or hiking. Or it could be time to get your finances in order and plan for the rest of your life.

When you’re starting your life “tune-up”, be patient: don’t panic. Give yourself time to make changes. It may take a year or two to really change direction. Relax and don’t rush the process.

Let’s talk about relaxation and stress: most of us are quite proud of how busy we are. We even boast of it to our friends. But, are we enjoying it? Many of us were raised to feel guilty if we relax. Never relaxing is a great way to feel old, worn-out and depressed. Stress speeds up the body’s metabolism, hurts our immune system and is linked to heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, cancer and impotence.

How can we relax more? We can start by adding more balance to our life, like leisure activities that are different from our work. If you have an analytic, left-brain focused job, add activities that are more physical and right-brain, like gardening, building a deck, going hiking, fishing or canoeing. Breaking a good sweat may be a good balancing activity for you administrative/CEO types. Carving little breaks into your schedule is a good way to ease your way into relaxing more. Experiment with things that make you feel good, even if it’s only for a few minutes.

Rather than spend a lot of our precious time and money to LOOK younger, wouldn’t it be a much better investment in ourselves to FEEL younger as we age?