Every now and then I read those surveys about happiness which tell you that people in their twenties are happy, those in their thirties and forties less so (the twin pressures of work and family no doubt) but the happiest people of all are the over fifties. This seems entirely convincing to me. As you get older, if you are lucky, you are likely to be less worried about money, you have the entirely selfish pleasure of time to yourself back as your children leave home, you might well have worked out how to live happily with your partner, either through years of practice or as a second time around with the benefit of more life lived, or if you are single you may have got to the stage where you are comfortable with where life has taken you. You probably know what is important to you by then and you probably care less about what others think. You are probably more comfortable than you have ever been in your own skin, even if it is a bit wrinklier than it used to be.
Yesterday I was walking down to the river with my son's dog trotting along in front and my grandson at my side and thinking about happiness. It is interesting how the life and energy which children and dogs bring can so easily tip over into the sensation of being overwhelmed when you have too much on your plate. When that happens all the sense of yourself is squeezed away by the weight of duty: work, family, domestic and professional life all queueing up to take a bit of you until you are worn away, stretched as tight and thin as an old handkerchief, practically see through when you hold yourself up to the light.
But take all those things away and what is life for really? Doing the washing up? Wandering around a tidy garden that nobody sees? Getting to the stage of planning your life around what is on the television and circling your favourite programmes with a blue biro?
Maybe that is why is so much easier to be happy in your fifties. At least for me now I have more time than I ever had. I work but not all the time so I can look after son's dog for a month which a year ago would have been inconceivable. I can look after my just four year old grandson one day a week and make lemon cake with him and let him take his time to climb slowly up from the river, being a mountaineer. But then he goes home and I have my own time again, to sow seeds and populate the windowsills with them, to read, to go to yoga, to share a bottle of pink fizz with my husband, just because.