There are loads of jokes about what happens to people when they hit middle age.
Some center on aching backs or being in bed by 9pm, while others imply that we all turn into killjoys who yearn to be 21 again.
In truth, many middle-aged people aren’t just happy—they’re far happier and more fulfilled than ever before.
So, what are the top habits of the happily middle-aged?
1. They stay physically active.
“Use it or lose it” isn’t just a well-rhyming adage: it’s a true one.
People who don’t remain physically active can lose a lot of their strength and flexibility. This will in turn reduce their ability to do the things they enjoy, as well as things they need to be able to do on a regular basis.
Happy middle-aged people inevitably take part in some type of physical exercise.
Some turn to running and weight training, while others go for Pilates conditioning or yoga, or get a dog so they have an obligation to walk for at least an hour every day.
Maintaining core strength and cardio health allows people to remain capable and self-sufficient for as long as possible.
When you see people in their 70s running marathons and chopping wood, you’ll know it’s because they maintained physical activity throughout their middle years instead of sitting in a recliner and just shuffling to and from the kitchen for snacks.
And the other side of the coin…
2. They get plenty of rest.
You’ve likely noticed that babies, teenagers, and those suffering from illness all share something in common: they all need a lot of rest.
Deep, restful sleep is absolutely vital for one’s health and well-being, and few people get enough of it!
In fact, scientists approximate that around 35% of North American and European adults don’t get enough restful sleep on a regular basis.
When you don’t rest properly, you’re not only more prone to illness and accidents, but you also take longer to heal when you do get sick or injure yourself.
In contrast, people who get plenty of rest are far healthier and more emotionally stable than those who don’t.
You may think it’s funny to see middle-aged people doze off on the couch while watching a movie, but that 40- or 50-something uncle or auntie is improving their memory, lessening their chance of unhealthy weight gain, lowering their risk of heart disease, reducing overall inflammation, and strengthening their immune system.
If you need an excuse for staying home from a party to rest, you have it now: you’re working on your health by doing so. Aim for seven to nine hours sleep per night whenever possible.
3. They set goals and make plans for the future.
We never know how much time we have left, and by middle age, we know that there’s less time ahead of us than there is on the road behind.
I think of the lyrics to “Over the Hill” by Loudon Wainright, here:
“Your hourglass once had a top half
It was filled full of sand
But it’s all trickled down”
Sure, there’s less future than past in these middling years, but that doesn’t mean that the future left to those over 40 is a bleak, monotonous wasteland that simply needs to be endured until death sets one free.
Instead, they consider things they’d really like to experience or achieve—like visiting certain countries or skydiving with their cat—and then put plans into place to make those happen.
Having something important to look forward to—even simply checking things off a “bucket list”—gives people a sense of purpose, and excitement about all the fun they’ll have by doing it.
4. They know their limits and work within them.
So many people damage themselves on countless levels by either trying to attain things that they aren’t well suited to, or going overboard instead of embodying temperance.
Happy middle-aged people have figured out their limits in various subjects and work within those limits, rather than going beyond them and potentially damaging themselves.
Bench-pressing 100lbs several times is going to do them a lot more good than trying to press 200lbs and destroying their rotator cuffs.
Similarly, drinking the same amount of alcohol that they did at 20 is likely going to flatten them, and socializing too much might deplete their energy reserves for several days.
Instead of going beyond their known limits, happy middle-agers work within them to the best of their ability.
They know when to stop, as well as what to avoid partaking in entirely, and they don’t worry about either impressing or disappointing anyone else with their choices.
5. They eat mindfully, in the manner that suits them best.
Younger people’s eating habits often fall into one of the following categories:
- Trendy eating: going with whatever’s cool at the moment, be that macrobiotic, Paleo, nose-to-snout, fruitarian, and so on.
- Ethical eating: basing their food choices on personal morals and ethics, such as adopting veganism, all-organic free-trade food, ancestral eating, and so on.
- Careless eating: either over- or under-eating, often choosing junk food that tastes good instead of focusing on nutrition, treating food as “filler.”
In contrast, happy middle-aged people are often those who eat in a way that best suits their own, individual health and lifestyle needs.
Sometimes these needs are at odds with their personal preferences or ethics, but they understand that each body is different and thus will have individual needs.
Quite simply, what’s healthy and nutrifying to one person may be inflammatory and harmful to another.
For instance, a Mediterranean diet is ideal for some people, but if another is allergic to nuts, fish, beans, or nightshade vegetables, it’ll make them seriously ill.
The key is to figure out what’s best for one’s own body, and then adhere to that protocol as strongly as possible for optimal performance and well-being.
6. They make time for those they care about.
…and by extension, they don’t waste time on people or activities they despise.
The happiest middle-aged people you’ll come across are discerning about both the company they keep, and how they spend their time.
You won’t find them grimacing their way through excruciating social situations—they’ll simply turn them down, or excuse themselves early and go on their merry way.
Similarly, they won’t waste time being captive audiences to those they can’t tolerate. They know that their time and energy are precious, and thus choose to spend them wisely and sparingly.
Most middle-aged people have no problem saying “no” to people and situations that deplete them rather than replenishing them, and they feel zero guilt about doing so.
Since they generally don’t care what other people think about them by this point in their lives, they don’t worry about potentially causing offense, nor do they fret about seeming awkward or rude by anyone else’s standards.
7. They aren’t easily influenced by others.
Happy middle-aged people are generally those who live life on their own terms.
They’ll still listen to others’ insights and opinions, but they’re more informed by their own ideas, values, and experiences than other people’s suggestions.
Furthermore, they seek to understand others’ motivations and how they may benefit from a given suggestion, rather than simply taking it at face value.
These people also don’t cave to societal pressure very easily, and they appreciate logic and reason more than viral trends.
For example, just because that 22-year-old health influencer may be promoting an “amazing” line of supplements doesn’t mean they’re actually effective, so research will be done to find out the items’ ingredients, company history, and what a wide range of people think of them.
Only after doing research (and trying things out themselves) will they cultivate an opinion on them.
8. They don’t sweat the small stuff.
When you think about all the things you stressed about in your teens, how much of that is either relevant or important to you today?
There’s a strong chance that most of the things you stayed up at night worrying about or over-analyzing don’t even cross your mind now.
In fact, you likely realize in retrospect that 99% of what wound you up doesn’t even matter.
Happy middle-aged people have recognized the fact that most of what upset or stressed them out in the past is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.
Most of the things that people gripe about don’t actually deserve their contempt. Furthermore, a lot of folks like to moan about issues instead of taking action to fix them.
In contrast, good-natured, content people in their middling years either do something about whatever’s bothering them, or simply don’t let those things bother them anymore.
9. They accept inevitable change with grace, dignity, and humor.
My partner fails her stealth check every night when she gets up to use the restroom because her knees creak loudly enough to wake the dead. We chuckle about that regularly, as well as the fact that I have less of a cast-iron stomach these days, so gutbuster burritos are no longer on the menu.
Aging brings a slew of interesting physiological changes, most of which are beyond our control.
We can do our best to stay as physically fit as possible, but our muscles will eventually deteriorate over time. Similarly, we can avoid the sun and smear ourselves with the best moisturizers out there, but skin will lose elasticity and collagen content, resulting in wrinkles and lines.
The happiest middle-aged people are those who can take these changes in stride, age with grace, and laugh about how ridiculous it all is.
Since aging is inevitable, we might as well find amusement in our little foibles and shortcomings as they reveal themselves, rather than getting upset or frustrated with it all.
Learn to see the humor in any situation and you’ll find middle age much easier than if you resent every moment of it.
10. They take part in hobbies that bring them joy.
Many younger people refrain from pursuing interests that they sincerely love because they’re afraid of how other people might judge them.
Alternatively, they may think that all their time should be spent being productive (such as working or doing chores), and thus treat play and downtime as frivolous.
In contrast, the happily middle-aged have figured out the best work-life balance possible. They know that their responsibilities are important, but so are their personal interests.
Maybe they’re working on building an authentic bronze age house at the back of their property, or they’re keen to decorate their home with hundreds of crocheted mushrooms.
They don’t care about being judged by others, nor appeasing anyone else’s expectations, and thus can pursue their joy-inducing interests with full freedom.
11. They maintain a positive outlook.
This doesn’t mean that all happy middle-aged people adhere to the “good vibes only” mindset, nor that they ignore awful things that are going on in the world.
Rather, they try to see the silver lining in any given situation and don’t allow themselves to drown in grief, despair, anger, and so on.
Life can throw a lot of challenges and ugliness in our paths, but it’s up to us to decide how we respond to it.
For instance, someone who receives a terminal health diagnosis can choose to either freak out that they only have two years left, or celebrate the fact that they have two whole wonderful years to spend with their loved ones, eating cake and enjoying the seasons.
Happy middle-agers find something to appreciate every single day. If it’s snowing, they’ll admire the view and curl up by the fire instead of griping about the cold.
As you can see, the happiest middle-aged people try to make the most of their time in the most positive, healthiest manner possible. Furthermore, they live life on their terms instead of trying to make others happy.
How will you choose to spend your middle years?