The Big Reason Maturing Makes Life So Much BetterSep 28, 2021
Being hopeful and aspiring in nature, we all tend to think about how we can make our lives better. We often think about getting a new job, a new house, more money, perhaps a romantic partner or children. We tend to focus on external things that we can acquire in a more concrete sense. While external changes like these can enhance our quality of life, it is often the case that our emotional and mental well-being is more strongly tied to our internal state. It is less common that we direct our attention inward, examining our patterns, beliefs, and emotions.
When we do look inward at ourselves, we often consider discrete skills, such as increased performance, resilience, serenity, or proficiency in some area. And this is a good thing - these attributes can be transformative, and they are worthy of study and pursuit. However, there is another towering, unsung heroine which we often ignore: our ongoing slow-burn process of maturation. Through stretches of time in our lives, the motley of our daily experiences transmute into a seemingly unprecedented outcome of self-empowerment and personal aptitude.
To recognize and celebrate maturity may seem counterintuitive in a society which celebrates youth and tends to ignore elder communities. An olympic athlete, a beautiful young actor, and a rising star in the spotlight are usually considered to be in the ‘prime’ of their lives. We often feel conflicted or reluctant to progress into new decades and stages of life.
It would be wiser to welcome the accumulation of seasons. Through time, we gain layers and refinement, becoming more beautiful and multi-dimensional creatures. We develop a healthy softness, discovering empathy, vulnerability, and kindness as powerful assets that can effect change and solve challenges in our lives. In addition to all this, there is a big reason that becoming more mature translates to living a better life. The secret of maturity is that we become better at satisfying our own needs and wants in life.
This means that, by maturing, we will almost certainly become more satisfied people and live more fulfilled lives. Even our external goals - money, lifestyle, family - are things that we seek in order to address some unmet personal needs, directly or indirectly. With maturity, we come to know our underlying emotional, psychological, and spiritual needs, so we can learn which external goals will truly make us happy. Inside and out, we become increasingly capable of recognizing and seizing opportunities to make our lives better. Maturity is a journey of ongoing, cumulative joy.
When we mature, we know better what we do and don’t want.
The first step toward satisfying our needs is understanding them, and maturity has a transformative effect on how we understand our own needs. One way is by clarifying what truly matters to us as opposed to things that seem to be ‘good ideas’ and therefore worthy of attention. A key growth process is learning that we choose what we want to do with ourselves and our lives - a ‘good idea’ does not have the authority to determine how we will spend our time and energy. As we live out our lives, we will inevitably stumble upon good ideas from time to time. In many cases, we may freely release them back into the universe, choosing not to dedicate emotional or mental energy toward them, because we already have endeavors about which we care deeply and in which we have invested much.
Another quality of maturity that helps us to understand our needs is becoming less dependent on the thoughts or opinions of others. It is possible that some of our priorities, or even just specific qualities or approaches to our priorities, are based on the values of others or how we think others will judge us. By growing more confident in ourselves, we are better able to direct our lives with integrity and authenticity, making choices that better align with who we are.
Lastly, growing mature involves developing greater clarity around our deeper values. We only have a limited time in this life, so it is important to dedicate our time to those things that align with our authentic and intimate values. There are many ideas that sound good on paper, but fewer that connect with us in an integral, personal way. By connecting our lives with our values, we may find that we get more energy and motivation from our work, as our actions are connected with our deeper spiritual values, rather than arbitrary decisions or ideas of what we should be doing.
As an outcome of maturity, we can graduate beyond feeling torn between possibilities or diluting our efforts among several half-hearted projects. We can develop a clearer picture of what we really want in life. Through months and years of lifetime, we may find ourselves letting go of certain priorities or ideas - not because there is anything wrong with them, but because we find more inspiration and energy in other areas. Thereby, we channel more of ourselves into the things that we truly care about.
We better know our unconscious mechanisms and blind spots.
In many cases, our happiness is hindered by our own lack of self-awareness in how our behavior ties into larger outcomes of our lives. A situation that would have imploded in our youth due to our immaturity can be shepherded through to a satisfying conclusion when we have developed the insight, patience, and wisdom that time and experience can bring.
One key area of our unconscious blind spots is our aforementioned needs. A big part of uncovering our blind spots is learning more about our needs that we had not previously noticed or understood deeply. For example, we all have a need to be seen, recognized, and understood by others. If we do not realize we have this need, we may live with some feelings of isolation or unhappiness and not understand why. With maturity, we can learn to recognize needs like this and take the actions needed to live a more well-adjusted life.
We have the tools to refine joy from the ambiguities of life.
Our past contains difficult memories; our present contains stress and ambiguity; the future is uncertain. It can be hard to feel good when life itself seems a dubious enterprise. But as we mature over time, we may cultivate a more spiritual mindset which allows us to transcend the limitations of time somewhat. We may see that our problems are smaller than we imagine; that there may be an underlying sense of harmony in the universe; that death is not the end. Insights such as these can work like a bridge of light, summoned to carry us across an abyss. Our refined spiritualities allow us to access joy, euphoria, contentment, despite the complications of the moment in which we find ourselves. Our spiritualities help us to function, to access ourselves and our creative energy more dependably, and to avoid getting incapacitated by the stressors of our world.
The insights and tools we refine from our spiritualities can be quite personal, so I will share three personal favorites which have helped me to navigate challenging times.
The historical context of my physical lifetime is outside of my control. The many political, economic, and ecological concerns that can leave us feeling powerless and paralyzed. I remind myself that I had to be born somewhere, at some time, and every era has its crises. By absolving myself of blame and responsibility for the state of the world, I can focus on those priorities that I believe to be most important for my contributions to this world.
I am free to enjoy my emotions and memories on my own terms. Many of our past experiences are bittersweet. Earlier in life, I had experiences of freedom and beauty which also were melancholic due to the limitations of youthful life. As I have grown and built a happier life, I look back on these memories fondly, enjoying their exhilaration and possibility while extending a sense of forgiveness to the sadness they contain. By communing with these past memories and forgiving the limitations of my past, I find a sense of fulfillment; these fragmentary vignettes seem to heal into something more whole.
The challenges of this world exist in a temporary place, but there is a joy that is eternal. It can feel selfish to feel joy and happiness in a world full of problems. However, being unhappy does not make the world a better place. Manifesting joy that is not defined in response to a specific event in the physical world can be a very powerful and humane practice. It allows us to find a sense of trust in the parameters of our existence, and it can help us to become the people that we truly want to become.