“Life begins at 40,” is a cliché that has been around for quite a while. It probably originated in the 20th century. It was a new concept because in Medieval England, for instance, the average life expectancy was 25 years old. Men and women of that time had complicated lives and disease were far reaching. Medical expertise was limited in those days so that any illness could be a death sentence.
However, by the 1930’s- things were changing, and Walter Pitkin is often given credit for coining the phrase, “life begins at 40.” There was also a famous song by the same name in 1937, sung by Sophie Tucker that helped increase the notoriety of the sentiment. New household help and gadgets were invented that made people believe they could have longer lives. Husbands and wives were able to enjoy a retirement period with good health. Families began to extend to great grandparents being able to see the birth of babies.
Time and progress have marched forward to a new century with new ideas and perceptions about aging. With the evolution of modern medicine and anti-aging offerings, people today don’t view age in the same way. We honestly think of 60 as the new 40 because of the vigor of our senior citizens. We are fortunate to have conquered many of the age-old diseases that took the lives of our ancestors. Illnesses such as TB, pneumonia, and smallpox, no longer pose the threat they used to.
Attitudes about age, too, have evolved. While many people used to dread turning 40, it now marks the beginning of adult life. We no longer accept the restrictions or conventional thinking about what “older” people can or cannot do. Stereotypes about age have been shattered by individuals living to be 100-still leading very active, fulfilled lives. The age of 100 puts 40 in a new light…why, a 40 something is just a baby to an octogenarian.
The age of 40 has a nice, round feeling to it. Many of us have put our partying ways behind us as we take on new responsibilities. We learn the satisfaction of a chosen career or the excitement of being a parent, in our 40’s. We discover the joy of quite a solitude as opposed to having to fill every minute with noise or activity. We have begun to know ourselves and to accept our limitations while still reaching for the stars.
We do often have to resign ourselves to some dreams passing by, but we see many new opportunities that we couldn’t have imagined in our youth. Who knew that a 10-year service pin from work would bring such pride or the immense joy of coaching our children in a familiar sport. As the youth, we could not predict the success of owning our home or buying the safest family car. Priorities change a great deal from when you are 20. At 40, we still love music but more so on our headphones than blaring on the car radio.
We still like the same sports teams but as 40 somethings, we have the money to go to the game in style and sit in a nice box seat, instead of drinking warm beer standing up in the crowd. We can purchase the souvenirs to support them and even afford special packages on our television so that we don’t miss any games.
Women, who are 40, don’t have the same hard household chores that their grandmothers did. We have gadgets that will vacuum a room or wash dishes or cook meals measured in minutes. We don’t have to carry loads of clothes out to hang up on a line or scrub floors on our hands and knees. Each of these luxuries adds years to a homemaker’s life. She has more energy to chase her passions and hobbies. She is free to be creative and reflective.
The current health craze has also added years to our lives. Today’s 40-year-old has more knowledge and information about health than ever before. We are encouraged to eat right and exercise by every influence possible. Not only are we given the information, but we are offered a myriad of ways to achieve health. There are diets to help us lose pounds. There are exercise programs that range from dancing to hardcore strength training. There are pills and drinks and magic potions to help us get healthy and stay healthy. Celebrities on television encourage us to join their diet camp, even though they probably have a team of professionals to help them lose weight!
All of this focus on health has improved the quality of life for many of us. As 40-year-olds, we can do things that no one our age has done before. We can hike, jump out of airplanes, run marathons and dance until dawn. It is this time of life when we can realize many of our youthful wishes. We have the finances to follow our favorite rock band, but somehow, the dreams have changed in substance. We finally have the money and the stability to dream big. Our only limits are our imaginations, not our age.
Perhaps the best things about life beginning at 40 are the life lessons we have attained along the way. If only we had known these things at 20 is a popular sentiment. But really, we probably would have just been more dangerous if we had known then what we know now. For now, we have the maturity to enlarge our life and our outlook with the knowledge we have gained through hard times. We have learned that forgiveness is something we do for ourselves and life isn’t about keeping score. We accept the fact that as our teenager gets older…we get dumber in their eyes. Then, suddenly one day they realize we might have known what we were talking about, all along.
At 40, hopefully, we have learned that love means accepting someone exactly as they are…instead of trying to change them. We know that we can unconditionally love someone without approving of everything they do. Our tongues are sore, in our 40’s, as we bite them to keep from sounding off at our kids, our bosses…our in-laws. We have learned that Facebook is awesome, but we don’t need to share everything… and where was the unfollow button when we were growing up?
Age is not about numbers, but it is all about attitude. Some of the oldest people I know are 40 while some of the youngest people still dancing to their tunes are in their 70’s. Turning 40 is a milestone, anyway that you look at it. It causes some people to become depressed or to feel their youth is over. But as my mom says, turning 40 is much better than the alternative. We have so many opportunities in this day and time, to make our lives meaningful, but all the gadgets or trips or anti-age creams will not make you feel young if you feel old in your heart. If you have given up and sit under a blanket, nursing arthritis or counting wrinkles you are done for. The battle against aging is fought and won in the mind and the heart.
What life begins at 40 is an old axiom with many meanings. Look at turning 40 as the beginning of a new part of life…a phase where you are past the awkwardness of youth and are finding the confidence of time. You have weathered some storms that taught you to bend instead of break. Old sayings become old sayings because they are genuine and stand the test of time.
Walter Pitkin must have known these things when he wrote the book, “Life Begins at 40.” This may have been one of the very first “self-help” books back in 1932. His best advice was that after 40, you still have many years of usefulness and fun if you keep a positive attitude. Another famous person of our time, John Lennon, wrote a song titled-“Life Begins at 40.” He wrote it in 1980, the year he turned 40.
The lyrics to the song include the following:
They say life begins at 40
Age is just a state of mind
If all that’s true
You know that I’ve been dead for 39
And if life begins at 40
Well, I hope it isn’t the same
It’s been tough enough without that stuff
I don’t wanna to be born again
Well, I tried to sweep the slate clean
With a new broom every day
If that don’t work
I’ll jerk around until my next birthday
Yeah, life begins at 40
Age is just a state of mind
Well, if all that’s true
You know that I’ve been dead for 39