I often find this stage of life improbably underwhelming, even as I spend my days spinning around in a blur of busyness. Surely, I’m not the only one who feels this way? So many of us plow through each day so burdened by the overwhelming demands on our time and emotions as dictated by kids, careers, partners, aging parents and our own aging bodies that we forget to embrace the fullness of life.
Perhaps we’ve organized our days with such keen attention to safety and efficiency in order to manage it all – and if no one has told you this lately, you are doing a great job managing it all! – that it’s taken some of the sheen off of our daily existence. For example, my life plays out in a series of cloned days that involve driving back and forth along the same routes, looking out the same window as I type away at my computer, shopping at the same grocery store, doing the same exercises, walking the dogs on the same route, having coffee at the same time and seeing the same people (most of whom I’m related to). I’m guessing other midlifers reading this can relate. It’s all great and it works and it’s safe.
But too much of this safe efficiency can breed complacency and complacency means we’re not growing and life without growth feels lackluster. I am someone who has always thrived on the challenge of newness and change, but that’s gotten a bit buried under the trappings of this nice, suburban, married-with-kids life that I’ve been living.
With that in mind, I intend to shake things up this year. I want to break out of routines, push past my comfort zone, and try new things. The start of a New Year feels like exactly the right time to do this. Instead of thinking about reducing bad behaviors or subtracting things from my life, this year I am setting the intention to add more good and novelty to my life.
There is a lot of research underscoring how beneficial trying new things is for people, especially as we age. A few of the benefits that you reap when you try something new include:
Putting ourselves out there to try something new requires courage and that’s a benefit in and of itself! Think of courage as a muscle that we need to exercise and like any muscle, the more we use it, the stronger it becomes and the better it helps us move through our lives with balance and strength.
Newness challenges us and when we are challenged, we begin to change. There’s worth in continuing to push ourselves in small and large ways as we age. If we never shake things up and try new things, we become stagnant which can make us brittle, whereas the growth that comes from challenge keeps us supple and adaptable.
Instant happiness boost! Engaging in new experiences triggers the novelty center or our brains, which release dopamine, that lovely neurotransmitter that helps us to feel pleasure and satisfaction. Plus, this release of dopamine triggers the creation of new neural pathways and that helps our minds stay sharp as we age.
While I lust after grand, sweeping changes like moving to Paris or leaving everything behind to travel the world for a year, those are beyond my pay grade, not to mention the needs of the rest of my family at the moment. So, I’m thinking about approaching New Things from a more modest perspective. Small changes can be just as effective as large, so below are a few ideas to help jump start the New:
Exercise. Whether you’ve got a steady routine or need to start from scratch, exercise is a great place to incorporate newness. Think about joining a running group, training for a 5K or 10K or 100K (whatever floats your boat!), try paddleboarding, ride your bike and let the cool breeze through your hair remind you of the halcyon days of your youth, or get back to the gym if you’re still stuck working out in the basement. The possibilities are endless. I’m giving aerial yoga a try, which has been simultaneously humbling and empowering and I’m going to take some hip hop dance classes, which is something that I haven’t done in decades, but always loved.
Volunteer. This can be a double whammy for upping our happiness because it’s got novelty plus the fact that helping others makes us feel good. Pick your cause, whether it’s food insecurity or animal welfare or local history and get involved. There is a lot of need in this world and you’re guaranteed to find joy when you lend a hand to address it.
Find a new hobby. Learn a language, take a painting class at a local studio, or tap into learning something from the many online sites like Skillshare or Masterclass that lead you to dive in and learn. You’ll expand your mind, pick up new skills, and feel great.
Rearrange your living space. Even putting the couch underneath a new window or your bed against a different wall can change your perspective. Add a few new pillows or a throw blanket with a splash of color and you’ll find a simple mood boost.
Whatever you do, have fun!
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