Mackie: You Can Be Happier As You Grow Older ... Or Not

I’ve read comments by two people recently, one a New Hampshire writer, the other an actress and celebrity, that claimed they were happier after 60. That sounded swell to me, since government documents allege I have been 60 since late December.

My wife asks me if I feel 60 and I tell her, “Only after 9 at night.” As early as that, the Sandman sprinkles magic dust and makes me yawn like a toddler on his third picture book. Sometimes he is less subtle. He whacks me in the head with his sand bucket and off I go, right there on the couch.

I feel 60 the first few steps in the morning as well. I walk across cold floorboards and hear them creak, and wonder if the sound is coming from me. It takes a couple minutes for my eyes to focus sharply, so I don’t read the newspaper right off or operate heavy machinery.

But I am blessed with reasonable vigor and good health, or will assume so until I hear otherwise. I still snicker about the side effects to the senior-oriented drugs they advertise during the evening news (may cause nervous twitches, moody thoughts, sudden urges to do the chicken dance), but I suppose my time to use them will come.

More to the point, am I happy? I’m pleased to report that I am, at least compared to the 20s, 30s, and so forth. Contentment, it would seem, is busting out all over. I look back to my harried younger self and wonder what the fuss was all about. For many years, I worked hard trying to get somewhere without knowing where that somewhere was. My ambition had no Google maps to set a course by.

At 60, I am satisfied with where I’ve landed and with myself. I make an effort to keep improving, but I know it won’t be by leaps and bounds. If I am by nature reserved, well, fine. In my youth I envied the extroverts. Now I wish they’d tone it down. My home plumbing project fiascos? Well, I helped the economy by giving real plumbers work. Electrical debacles? Ditto.

Domestic tranquility helps. We have been married since 1976, and my wife and I squabble as often and as heatedly as the U.S. and Canada (The Land of Level-Headed People).

We are now empty nesters, pleased to see our children out in the world and living in exciting places that we can visit. And then we return to the Upper Valley, which is, in the main, an agreeable place. Many who live here only need the arrival of a Target store to reach a state of bliss.

At 60, I appreciate smaller things. This winter I am pleased because I acquired a comfortable, waterproof pair of shoes (on sale!). While good shoes cannot ensure bliss, wet feet will walk you a long way toward misery.

I feel I have made it through the hard early years, through the muddled middle years. That is when men do something foolish, or turn inward and give in to peculiar thinking, like fearing that the government wants to monitor them (when they are dull as drying paint), or take away their guns (when the number of guns only multiplies). They suspect the school crossing guard is a threat to liberty, fret about what it in the water, fear the president isn’t really American, or that Americans aren’t actually Americans. I do not know why men are so afflicted with this — women seem to keep in touch with their friends and have less desire to go down into their basements and seek the Fox News heart of darkness.

There are many angry men about, many of them my age, stewing about whether the Founding Fathers envisioned assault muskets, and what gun model God prefers. When I see that some want to arm schoolteachers, I am astounded. Can’t we just stop at tasers?

It seems there is some point in life, especially for men, when you decide whether to accept life as it is, and maybe nudge it a little toward the good, or try to change the world through a death-match battle against the apparent overuse of staples by the town clerk. Or, under the flickering light of workbench fluorescents, you develop a unified theory of politics, economics and weapons, then declare that all who disagree with you are cockroaches.

If anger could make you happy, that might be the way to go. But I can’t imagine it really does.

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