How to Turn 60 Happily

How to turn 60 happily? Here are my thoughts on how to own your life at 60.

Simone de Beauvoir’s protagonist Fosca, in her All Men Are Mortal (1946), is cursed with immortality. Yes, cursed. I read about Fosca enduring his everlasting life, when I was young and it left me flabbergasted. Don’t we want to live forever? Surely, a state of perpetuity was a blessing, not a curse! Not so, de Beauvoir showed in her fictional-historical writing.

At university, whilst majoring in Philosophy, profound perspectives on being mortal were studied, starting with Socrates who thought that philosophy itself was a long contemplation on human mortality.

Mortality adds value to our lives. But isn’t that a contradictory statement? No. We are coming to an end, and the closer we are nearing our end the more important becomes our evaluation of how we have lived our lives. Make a mistake at 20 and it is hardly a big deal; you are young and unwise perhaps, there is enough time ahead to set things right. Make the mistake repeatedly and the consequences are far more lasting. You might remember your mistakes on your deathbed. The mistake wasn’t a faux pas but a pattern, it becomes a dimension that is attributed to your character, and to the memory people will have of you, and perhaps to your karma. It is thus the end of a life that gives meaning to a life. It is like a ball bouncing back on a wall at the end of a cul-de-sac. Should we have decades and decades of not having to care about the consequences of our lives (of what we do, say, think), like Fosca, everything becomes meaningless. There will be no urgency to improve behaviour, to set things right, to apologize, to learn. And that is unbearable because -in fact- we deeply desire to put our time on this planet, our lives, to good use.

A friend embraced becoming 60 in the most elegant way I have heard of. She said that she finds the closed doors in her life in a subtle way intriguing. ‘Isn’t it wonderful that you had doors to close in the first place?’ She said it is interesting to live with the consequences of one’s choices. Very true! Mind you, this came from a woman. Women have their reproductive doors closing between 40-45, whilst men can have offspring well into their seventies. It made me think of my closed doors. Are there doors that have fallen into their lock that I want to reopen? Do I want to go back to university? Move to the countryside? Becoming 60 means 10-20 perhaps but increasingly unlikely 30+ years ahead. And these years will fly by because for old people time passes more quickly. I have given this some good thinking, especially because my mother and grandmother haven’t reached 65-70.

Another pressing event has shaped my ‘Turning Sixty’ is that I -unwillingly – became somebody’s object of envious obsession. Envy is a cardinal sin, a deadly sin and not alone in old-school Catholicism; every religion warns against envy. One should never permit it, let alone empower it. This shameful exhibition of exhibited envy struck me. Was I to be envied? At my age? Good Lord. I can picture somebody envying me at 25 when I had my whole life ahead of me, but at this age? Then the penny dropped. It wasn’t the promises, prospects, and plans that I at 25 that were envied, it was my life as I had lived it: with my husband, child, skills, and my education. Apparently, at 60 one can be envied, despite not having Fosca’s immortality.

My husband and I, very early on in our relationship and career adopted a mantra to never compare ourselves (individually but also as a couple) to others. One has to live one’s own life; and we all receive our own blessings and challenges. Comparing yourself to others leads to nothing beneficial. Even within the setting of being a positive role-model, comparisons shall fail; even an utterly loyal apprentice will have to break away from his/her master one day. To compare and contrast lives is unbecoming and goes against (my) religious, spiritual, and philosophical beliefs. However, this envy invited me to look at my life from the perspective of an outsider which led to interesting insights. It surely resulted in deep gratitude, in wholeheartedly embracing my life more than I already had done. It was also a sort of wake-up call from the relentless ambition and profound desire I have to do better, to improve, to not rest till I have created a humble legacy. Whilst every day I was aiming for improvement, pushing myself to do better, trying to leave behind a sufficient portfolio, somebody was envying me which -surprisingly- meant I had perhaps already made a mark? Perhaps the envy held a message that I could sit back a bit more and enjoy what I (plus my husband and daughter) have achieved so far.

Me in an unknown parallel realm enjoying my life in a magnificent relaxed manner by reading a book at noon in a splendid botanical setting. If only life was like Impressionist painted it. 🙂

So, where does all these musings leave me? Turning 60 means there is limited time ahead but that makes the coming years all the more precious. Do I still want to be an immortal Fosca? A bit less but give me the change to be 40 again and I will take it for a sense of having enough time ahead. Still, it is better to bravely accept closed doors and -with deep-felt gratitude- embrace where you are at 60. To wake up every morning with the intention to live virtuous and inspirational is a dream life.

Supplementary I have the following 6 miscellaneous tidbits of advice.

Eat Less and Less: Become Ascetic

The body is aging which means that internal organs become thinner and enzyme production is decreasing. I have established a rule that at the age of 50, you should eat probably 50% less than you did when you were 20-25 years of age. At 60, you eat 60% less, at 90 you eat 90% less and at 100 you most likely … eat 100% less. (😬) Not extreme but sensible asceticism is a good life-philosophy; it saves you diseases of affluence and limits your carbon footprint. I clock 12 vegan years now and before that many vegetarian years; stop eating animals who were not willing to die for you.

Never Compare Yourself to Others

With my husband having a very competitive job and myself being an artist we -early on in our careers- promised that we would never compare ourselves to others, other couples, family members, colleagues. We also would never compare our child to other children: that is such a wrong thing to do. Over the years we saw the most successful colleagues dying of cancer, family members falling ill, and high-flyers taking stunningly regrettable decisions. Comparisons are deeply fraudulent because we aren’t born as a tabula rasa; we come into this life with a package of past lives consequences and a determining set of inherited genetics. We also come into this life for a special reason: to live with your given talents, limitations, traits, and IQ, to live the best possible, virtuous, and creative life.

Make New Friends

Turing 50-60 often means that you have gone through several rounds of purges of family and friends. Some friends and family have naturally drifted away, some have died, some moved to the other side of the planet (I still have contact with my long-distance friends), and some became toxic. In other words, a regular and thorough shake up of your circle of family and friends is inevitably and even desirable. However, make new friends in order to prevent your social skills becoming rusty. Do not turn bitter. Live like a snake by regularly shedding your skin. All losses are natural; all gains are enjoyable.

Old Age Proof Living

Buy or rent an age-old proof house and give all your money to your children and grandchildren. ‘I want to die as poor as a church mouse’, a friend once said. I immediately admired and understood him. At 60 what do you need so desperately? Probably not much. You have probably collected enough stuff. You have probably secured a fallback position, if not as savings then as work-experience, skills or wisdom. Thus, what do well-educated people tend to do with their money? They book short and modest holidays, they don’t spend money on luxury. Instead, they invest in the education of their children and grandchildren, to kick start their lives. Declutter and give away along the way. Here and here I wrote about the importance of donating.

Start Homesteading

Optimize homesteading skills. We are with too many and we are looking at old age with less care staff and less care facilities. Start with developing eco-friendly skills and become as self-sufficient as possible. Learn food preparation, homemaking, gardening, survival skills, and other self-sufficient living skills. The more you learn now, the less mistakes you will make when it becomes increasingly more difficult to receive help.

At Cambridge. After a visit to Waterstones, I find this bench resembling a children’s book stating ‘Once upon a time’..

Keep Walking and Reading

This one is so self-explanatory! Keep walking 5000-6000 steps daily and keep reading for cognitive health. Keep reading a few books simultaneously. Never stop with that, no matter what. There are those who like to do strength training and learn calligraphy at 80 and if you can add this to your daily list of chores, please do, but the minimum is reading and walking. And if your sight deteriorate; listen to audio books. The body and mind need to explore new horizons; the body and mind need to keep moving.

More-overly, I asked around what I perhaps had overlooked. Have a look at the marginalia by my 60-something friends.

Dwell on past agreeable occurrences; never on past disagreeable memories. Keep a gratitude journal. Stop blaming others or circumstances, by the age of 60 you should own your life. Lastly, not so long ago you were regarded to be old at 60. Now, you are -at 60- not even retired!

Wishing you a happy 60th birthday!

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

Paula holds an MA degree in Philosophy and she is the owner of mindfuldrawing.com. Her pen and pencils are always fighting for her attention nevertheless they are best friends; Paula likes her art to be brainy and her essays to be artistic.

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Artwork by Paula Kuitenbrouwer