Seldom are there better opportunities in your life to reassess your priorities—and potentially make some smart, life-changing decisions—than the year you turn the big 4-0. This isn’t just a pep talk to make staring down that oft-maligned number seem less scary. In fact, it comes down to simple science.
According to research published in Psychology and Aging, the respondents who were over 40 reported increased confidence, comfort, stability, coping mechanisms, analytical skills, decisiveness, and independence over others. “By 40, we have a level of maturity that lets us look at the world with some degree of perspective,” says Erica B. McCurdy, an MMC-certified life coach.
But even with all of that hard-won maturity, knowledge, and experience, you may need some guidance on how to shift your priorities. That’s why we’ve compiled this expert-backed checklist for living a longer, healthier, and more productive life—and figuring out your true priorities after 40.
1 You don’t let others’ opinions determine your life path
“When you turn 40,” says Caleb Backe, a Health & Wellness Expert for Maple Holistics, “you don’t have to care what anyone else thinks of you anymore.”
It’s not that turning 40 makes a person antisocial, per se, but, according to Backe, by this age, you’ll have “plenty of life experience and don’t need to be affected by anyone’s thoughts of you.” So, feel free to listen to the voices you trust, while kindly ignoring the rest. Of all the changes aging brings, this one may be the sweetest—just imagine how much better your teens, 20s, and 30s might have been if you’d prioritized only what you found important, not what others told you to.
2 You stop trying to change what you can’t control
Now that you’ve lived a good amount of life, says Backe, you can “relinquish control and know that some things will never be the way you want them to be.” While this realization may, at first, appear bittersweet, Backe says it actually allows you to “move on to the more important, changeable aspects of your life.” With the energy you save on wishing you were more attractive, richer, or more popular, for instance, finding time to actually address the ones you can fix becomes a whole lot easier.
3 You focus on real friendships
At 40, says Backe, “many friends have come and gone….[while] only the true and best have survived.” While you may initially bemoan this tightening of your social circle, it allows you to “focus on your truest friends and give them the love they deserve.” When it comes to friendship, quality beats quantity any day—after all, few things feel better than letting those closest to you know just how important they are.
4 You make self-care a top priority
While you may have found yourself struggling to find time to prioritize your needs during your earlier decades, in your 40s, self-care becomes a top priority. “Self-care is not selfish,” says Dr. Yemi, a teaching faculty member at Rocky Vista University College of Osteopathic Medicine.
“Having the ordinary courage to choose oneself daily is the first step in living a more productive and fulfilling life [after 40],” she says. In fact, getting serious about your health and overall wellbeing is a big step in the right direction toward finding yourself in a healthy and happy place. In fact, research published in the International Journal of Mental Health Systems suggests self-care as a means of relieving certain mental health challenges, so feel free to steal a little “me time” here and there—you deserve it.
5 You stop striving for perfection
When you hit 40, says Dr. Yemi, you begin to encounter a world which would “rather we present the normalized version of ourselves…undistorted by the realities that besiege our beings.” In other words, a world that says 20-somethings are more valuable than folks twice that age. Which is why it is crucial to have the self-confidence to tell the world you’re just fine the way you are, gray hairs, wrinkles, and all. In fact, considering that researchers at the University of California, Berkeley have found individuals over 40 t0 be more confident than their younger counterparts, it’s clear that those years spent chasing perfection were likely wasted, anyway.
6 You learn the difference between problems that need solving and situations that don’t
One aspect of mental maturity, McCurdy explains, is recognizing the difference between a problem and a situation. Problems are things that can be fixed quickly and go away—such as a broken water pipe—while a situation is something that, while we can reduce its impact on us, will never truly go away, like a chronic medical issue. Recognizing the gulf separating these two types of issues, says McCurdy, allows you to focus your energy intelligently, doing what you can to make life better without striving in vain to eliminate issues that resist solutions. And managing your energy wisely is key to making sure your the years that follow are lived to their fullest.
7 You know how to leave toxic relationships
“At 40,” says Dr. Froswa’ Booker-Drew, author of Rules Of Engagement: Making Connections Last, “if there are people in your life who do not serve you well, it’s time to move on.” And while it “doesn’t have to be a cruel break-up, it it is about making sure you are identifying what fits in your life and what cannot.” If someone simply isn’t working out as a romantic partner or friend—no matter how many years you’ve known one another—it’s time to say goodbye. While it may not have taken you until now to acknowledge this fact, it’s time act on it, and use your newfound maturity to defuse the situation calmly.
8 You weigh the consequences of your actions
At 20, the reality that drinking with your friends until the wee hours would hit you like a ton of bricks the following morning at work was a lesson you were constantly re-learning. However, at 40, says Dr. Booker-Drew, you begin to recognize that all actions have consequences, and begin weighing those actions accordingly. For example, she says, “you understand that while staying up all night can be done…you know that the consequences are not worth it.” Even more, you know the benefits from not doing so—waking up refreshed and ready to grab the day by the horns—are just too sweet to pass up.
9 You value your “faults”
Those perceived faults don’t go away when you hit 40, but their weight certainly lightens. “When I turned 40,” says Dr. Booker-Drew, “those same insecurities that I thought would cease were still there.” Instead of triggering thoughts of low self-worth or insufficiency, however, she began to realize that, after 40, “you begin to value the flaws and faults about yourself in a different way.” The fact is, while some may call them faults, many of them are simply what make you you. So, instead of hiding them, as your younger self may have done, it’s time to celebrate them for all the world to see.
10 You realize that complaining isn’t getting you anywhere
When you hit 40, says Dr. Booker-Drew, you’ve accumulated the worldliness to realize that there are many things—both good and bad—that are simply facts of life, and cannot be changed. With this comes acceptance, and, most importantly, and end to complaining. Because not only does complaining usually not help, it often makes you feel worse—not to mention its negative effect on those around you. In fact, research published in Molecular Psychology reveals that chronic stress—like that frequent complainers are likely to experience—can actually change the neurons in the brain to prepare for future stress.
11 You prioritize your whole-body wellness
Those beers and burgers you lived on in your 20s probably aren’t doing you any favors in your 40s—and that’s why many people in their 40s choose this decade to start prioritizing their overall wellbeing.
“When a person turns 40 years old, they often begin a journey into wellness,” says Katie Ziskind, a licensed marriage and family therapist at Wisdom Within Counseling. One of the first steps towards this goal, she affirms, is eating better: that means “more salads and water versus beer and Chinese food,” as she puts it. Even a little boost in a diet’s nutrition—say, swapping those fries for a side salad with oil and vinegar—can go a long way, with effects you can feel almost immediately.
12 You start to ponder what happens after you’re gone
As dark as it may sound at first, says Ziskind, “getting closer to death means getting curious about spirituality, [the] afterlife, yoga, Buddhism,” etc. While your younger self may not have had the patience to engage in these sorts of soul-searching activities, your 40-year-old self can—and should—start asking the deeper questions. Just make to start with an open mind—you never know what answers you might find. The good news? Taking some time to ponder the nature of your existence may make the inevitable a little less scary.
13 You take time to decompress
One big part of focusing on your health as you age, says Heidi McBain, a licensed marriage and family therapist, is monitoring your stress levels. In addition to leaving toxic environments, taking time to decompress, and in general being more mindful of when you stress yourself out, she says, it can be helpful to “see a therapist for extra support.” Because the less stress in your life, the more room for everything else. And considering that research published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology suggests a link between stress and cardiovascular disease, there’s no time like the present to start getting your stress under control.
14 You prioritize happiness over achievement
Once you’ve hit 40, you likely have a good idea of you own likes and dislikes. That means it’s time to use that hard-won self-knowledge for good. “Focus on yourself,” says McBain, and engage in “activities that fill you up and make you happy.” While your breadth of activities might be more restricted than it was at an earlier age, this just means you get to engage more deeply with what really turns you on.
15 You make finding a fulfilling career a priority
Now that you’re 40, says McBain, it’s time to get serious about work. But that doesn’t mean settling into a career because it’s easy, or pays well, or is prestigious. Rather, she says, it’s time to “find a career that brings you joy.” Preferably, she explains, “something you hop out of bed wanting to do everyday!” Or, at the very least, something that doesn’t make you want to bury your head back under the covers and scream.
16 You seek meaning over material
“After 40,” says Milana Perepyolkina, an international bestselling author of Gypsy Energy Secrets, “people long to live with passion—in deep relationships that matter, in a loving community, in work that makes a difference, and find powerful ways to cope with the realities of the world.” What they eschew, however, is “the treadmill of life going nowhere—of working so hard for material things that don’t even matter.” And while material things do have their place in a fulfilling life, they shouldn’t crowd out those deeper values.
17 You get a handle on your work/life balance
After 40, says Jodi Rose, a credentialed art therapist, “my recommendation would be that individuals focus on improving work/life balance.” Even workaholics should start being more mindful of the way they spend their waking hours. The potential benefits, she explains, are tremendous: reducing stress, lowering irritability, and improving overall physical wellbeing.
18 You get your stress under control
In addition to attacking its sources, says Rose, it’s important to get stress under control in general. The fact is, she explains, chronic stress “is at epidemic levels in our culture,” with 75 percent of doctors’ visits being associated with stress-induced conditions. The good news? If ditching your stress is one of your priorities after 40, the effects of ushering in a new era of calm can have some serious effects on your physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing for the decades to come.
19 You prepare for an empty nest
For some parents, says Tara Truax, a clarity coach at LoveMySassyLife.com, hitting your 40s means facing the reality of an empty nest. After having taken care of others for the past 15 to 20 years, she explains, a 40-year-old can “find themselves lost, unfulfilled and feeling abandoned.” Thus, hitting the big 4-0 is a good time to begin preparing for “what [you’d] like to achieve once the kids no longer need [your] full attention.” So, have something planned—a once-in-a-lifetime trip, dance lessons, or playing catch-up with those classics you’ve never gotten around to reading—that you’ll be just waiting to attack once you get that first moment all to yourself.
20 You think about the goals you’ve forgotten
At 40, says Truax, it’s time “to think about…goals that may have been long forgotten but still need to be achieved.” After all, it’s far from too late to achieve your wildest dreams. The time to climb your personal Mount Everest is now—in fact, according to research published in The Longevity Project, the key to living a longer life is relentlessly pursuing your goals, whether or not you actually achieve them.
21 You start preparing for retirement
While you may have saved some money in your earlier years, your 40s are often the first time you start really considering what your life will look like after retirement. “While 40 may seem a long way from retirement,” says Truax, “the years go by quickly and financial stability for retirement needs to be taken care of early.” So start putting some money away—you may feel as if you’re in the prime of your career, but that doesn’t mean it will last forever. Your future self with be plenty grateful.
22 You think about life insurance
Retirement isn’t the only milestone that one needs to prepare for after 40, says Truax. “Making sure [you] have proper life insurance” is another crucial aspect of growing older that needs to be taken care of. While no one wants to ponder their own mortality, having life insurance is a necessity for anybody who has others depending on them. Not to mention, it’s always easier to consider death when you’re still far from from it.
23 You consider long-term care
Another future contingency to begin preparing for, says Truax is “long-term care.” The fact is, when and if you do finally need such care, you don’t want to place that problem in the laps of your loved ones. To make sure that doesn’t happen, it’s important to start considering your own options and preferences sooner rather than later. Begin researching the kinds and level of care you will need, and want, depending upon what your future holds.
24 You ponder your legacy
Assessing your priorities after 40 means it’s time to start thinking about not just the life you want to lead, but the impression you want to leave behind. Whether that means you keep on doing what you’re doing—or make a drastic change—that’s a decision only you can make. While much of what’s remembered about you is beyond your control, some of it is up to you—so it’s important to begin considering what you want that legacy to be and working towards it. Now’s the time to start volunteering, calling your mom more regularly, or just trying to change your outlook on life as a whole if you want to cement the positive legacy you’d hoped for.
25 You value reflection over spontaneity
Spontaneity can be fun, but the pursuit of fun over all else often stops being a major priority after 40. “When a person turns 40,” says Ziskind, “they often step away from the younger, free spirit, partying, bar hopping, Charlie-Good-Time lifestyle.” Instead, she says, they engage in “a deeper state of reflection and wisdom.” Whether that means more nights spent at home, or a switch to a more introspective book club, is up to you—what’s important is to begin spending some time looking inward rather than outward.
26 You focus on longevity
When you’re younger, it can be easy to ignore the fact that one day you’ll be 50, then 60, then 70, etc. When you’re 40, however, those ages start staring you in the face, and you’ll realize it’s time to prepare. This means focusing on longevity, weighing your daily decisions against how they’ll affect you down the road—and making sure that road is as long as possible. So be nice to your body—it’ll treat you equally well in return.
27 You become okay with saying “no”
Now that you’re older, you both have less time on your hands, as well as a better understanding of how you want to spend that time in order to feel fulfilled. To ensure that all the time you’ve got left is spent wisely, then, it becomes important to begin learning how to say “no” to things. While you can still explore uncharted territories, there’s no need to do things you won’t enjoy—or those that get in the way of you spending time on the things you’re passionate about—just because someone else asked you to. It might only be one syllable, but it’s a word that can make a huge difference in your life.
28 You follow your instincts
While you may have once shrugged off those gut instincts, by the time you hit 40, it’s time to start heeding the louder ones. At 40, your instincts have become refined—through frequent use—enough to be truly helpful guides. So take advantage of that fact and start following them. Though they may occasionally lead you astray, more often than not, you’ll kick yourself for not taking that job your gut told you was going to be great or not asking out that cute stranger at a bar.
29 Your contextualize your life
That time you got stood up at 18 may have seemed like the end of the world, by by 40, it’s hardly a blip on your radar. On your way to forty, life just seems to happen—it’s an unending stream of events, connections, achievements, heartbreaks, etc. As you get older, however, you can take a step back and put all of these events into context, making it easier to shrug off those disappointments and celebrate those successes. Doing so will both remind you of how far you’ve come, as well as set you up for a great sequel to your earlier adventures post-40.
30 You stop caring how old you look
When you’re younger, you often try to look older, and when you get older, you often try to look younger. Now that you’ve hit your forties, however, it’s time to actually look your age. After all, it’s a pretty sweet age to be, there’s no reason not to flaunt it. So dress to impress—not to hide.
31 You invest in your long-term health
As you get older, your chances of becoming sick—potentially even terminally so—spikes significantly. It’s important, then, to remain vigilant and on the lookout for any changes in your physical status, from vision issues to aches and pains that weren’t there before. Don’t be afraid to ask a doctor about even something as small as a mole you never noticed before. It’s always better to be safe than sorry, both for you and your family. And considering that research published in BMJ Open reveals that continued care with a doctor slashes your overall mortality risk, there’s no time like the present to start scheduling those yearly checkups.
32 You think more about yourself
While in younger years you may have been focused on others—your spouse, your children, your parents—now that you’re forty, it’s time get a little selfish. The fact is, you’re the best you when you’re able to take of yourself. So, feel free to get a little selfish, taking some “me time,” saying no to that big project you don’t have time for, or engaging in other activities you may have earlier avoided due to your responsibility to others.
33 You stop comparing yourself to others
If you spent your early years constantly comparing yourself to your friends, family members, or even celebrities, you’re far from alone. Now that you’ve grown into your own, however, it’s time to drop those comparisons that don’t make you feel positive. You’re too mature to be engaging in negative thinking just to hurt—or help—your own ego.
34 You value kindness
When you’re in your 40s, it’s time to start valuing what really matters—not your looks or the number of zeroes in your bank account, but kindness. Tell your kindest friends how much you appreciate them, and make sure to return the favor. What goes around comes around, and everyone could use a little more kindness in their daily lives. And considering that researchers at the University of Oxford have found that kindness benefits both giver and recipient, there’s no better time to start adding some random acts of kindness to your to-d0 list.
35 You stop thinking about regrets
It can be easy—and tempting—to beat ourselves up over past regrets. Now that you’re in the prime of life, however, you simply have no time to waste on things you can’t change. So stop thinking about regrets or missed opportunities and realize that those “regrets” have gotten you to where you are today—you’ll free up some valuable head space in the process. If there any missed opportunities you really can’t get off your mind, of course, it might be time to make a positive change—what matters here is to maintain your focus on the future, rather than wasting your time looking back on things you can’t change.
36 You stop judging others
Young people often judge others in order to feel better about themselves—insecurity, after all, is an almost inescapable fact of youth. However, in the same way that you no longer need to worry what others think of you after hitting 40, you need to stop worrying about what you think of others. Once again, it’s about assigning the proper importance to different aspects of your life: worrying about your sick younger brother is important, but concerning yourself with the romantic habits of your next door neighbor is certainly not.
37 You stop trying to please everyone
Now that you’re 40, you have enough experience with people to know that, quite frankly, many of them don’t matter to you—and never will. So stop trying to please everyone and focus on improving the lives of the ones that do matter, and who are deserving of your time and energy in a way that most people are not. You’re never going to please everyone, and trying to do so will only leave you drained in the process.
38 You stop being afraid of “missing out”
Most people have experienced FOMO at one point or another—wondering if they’ve made the wrong decision and missed out on an experience and wishing they hadn’t. Once you’re 40, however, the choices you make with your time are much less arbitrary and, if there is anything you’ve missed, it’s probably something you can live without, anyway. So feel free to enjoy every moment of your Friday night at home knowing there’s no place you’d rather be.
39 You work smarter, not harder
When you’re younger, missing out on a few hours of sleep every night in order to put in the extra effort at work might seem worth it. Once you hit forty, however, the bargain no longer looks so good—your body simply needs sleep one way or another. Instead of putting in extra time, then, it’s important to streamline your work process—using the knowledge you’ve gained in almost two decades in the workforce—in order to work smarter and more efficiently. Your body, and your boss, will thank you.
40 You let others help you
One of the biggest mistakes of youth is thinking that you can—and should—be entirely self-sufficient. The truth is, no man, woman, or child is an island. Now that you’re older, it’s time to start accepting the help of others—or maybe even asking for it should the need arise. Rather than a point of shame, being wise enough to recognize when you need help is, in fact, one of the strongest things you can do.
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Filed UnderMental Health • Over 40 • Wellness