The happiest women I speak to in my research are older women. Sitting around the table with a group of women in their 60s the conversation is always lively and upbeat. This is arguably the best stage of life for them. And far from retiring or slowing down there is a lot happening in their lives. It is a new phase and an exciting one at that.
The central theme in our discussions is that it is finally time for them to be selfish and focus on their own needs. After years of sacrifice and looking after everyone else’s needs it is now their time. The kids are independent, the mortgage most likely paid off and so they can enjoy.
They feel they have sacrificed much over the years. Their careers were compromised by child rearing and their options of balancing work and home life were fewer than today. Their passions were put on hold as the demands of life were many. The focus was firmly on their children and their activities and interests. “I have worked hard enough all my life,” said one woman. “Now I can just enjoy myself and do what I want to do, when I want to do it.”
They speak of having good relationships with their adult kids, especially their daughters, and of having good friends, as women are good at maintaining these over the years. They feel young, spritely and able, and are keen to embrace life.
Long standing passions that have been neglected can come into focus once more. New interests can be pursued, skills attained and courses enrolled in. Feeling they have a good decade of two left in them, they can retrain and start new careers. For one woman her long standing passion for art was reignited. “That’s something that I had a secret hidden desire for. One that I’d hidden so well that I didn’t really know I wanted to do. But suddenly when I retired it popped up. I threw myself into it, not knowing anything about it and I guess now that I’ve started that journey I would like to keep going with it and see how far I can go.”
But perhaps most importantly, and what makes them so upbeat, is their inner confidence. They talk about the self-doubt and worry of earlier years having largely disappeared. They are no longer so focussed on what others think of them. They feel freer to express their opinions and are more comfortable in their bodies than ever. As one woman said: “I know some women never want to admit what their age is and I think, how ridiculous. Who cares? You’re here, you’re breathing and you’re enjoying yourself. You don’t care anymore, you know? I had someone say to me, ‘Oh, I wouldn’t wear that top because people might think I was pregnant.’ I said to this person, ‘At nearly 60 I don’t think so! Get over yourself!’ Because it just doesn’t matter. I only worry about looking as nice as I can just for myself.”
There’s so much to do and explore. Far from a time of demise and slowing down this lifestage is all about self-exploration and adventure.