Much has been written in recent years about the blessings of life after work and parenting. Aging baby boomers were told that the best was still to come if they only kept dreaming big. What was traditionally considered a time of well-deserved rest and leisure now became "the power years," where people could finally realize their true potential. But clearly not everyone has bought into this concept. There is a new yearning for rest among today's older adults, although not quite in the same way their predecessors envisioned it.
In his latest book, titled "Gelassenheit" (calmness), the German philosopher and social critic Wilhelm Schmid advocates a return to a state of mind that is free from excessive stress, depression, and unrealistic expectations.
His prior publications on happiness and love were reasonably successful, but his latest oeuvre quickly became a bestseller, which shows how much of a nerve he hit, and not only among his primary target audience.
Schmid says that we gain -- not lose -- as we grow older, not just in terms of experience and wisdom but by learning to discern between what's important and what isn't.
Our busy lifestyles, overloaded work schedules, countless activities, and insatiable appetite for the next big thing make us restless to the point where we get stressed out and lose sight for the meaning of it all. And yet, it is almost alien to us to forgo something that seems to offer itself as an opportunity. To regain a stage of calmness and peace of mind, he says, we have to learn to sometimes let go of things, even when they are within our reach.
Of course, not everyone is capable of calmness, tranquility and inner peace as a permanent state -- nor is that necessarily a desirable goal. Some people seem unfazed no matter what life throws at them. Others are nervous wrecks almost from the day they were born. But nobody is condemned to a particular form of being. We can all change and find ways to become more the person we want to be. That, Schmid says, is the gift of aging.
There is much we can do simply by lowering our expectations. Over time, we have developed unbelievable expectations of what life should have to offer. Entire generations have been told from early childhood on that they will be able to achieve anything they want, if they only put their mind to it. False promises like these must necessarily end in disappointment.
Eventually, as we grow older, we have to choose between becoming bitter over our failures and shortcomings or making peace with our reality. If we succeed at the latter, a state of calmness, serenity, and even genuine happiness can emerge.
Ultimately, Schmid suggests, we should not idealize the "successful life" as it is often defined in terms of material wealth but rather accept our entire existence in all its multiple facets. If we only consider either the positive or the negative that happens to us throughout our lifetime, we cut our perspective short by half.
Calmness, by contrast, requires acceptance of everything without judgment or exclusion. It enables us to see more clearly not only from where we have come but also where we will be going next.
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