Why Being Stuck In The Past Is Worse Than Getting Older

Image via Unsplash/Caleb George Morris

Do you ever wonder why people who have actually lived for a while—say even for just 50 or 60 years—don’t worry about getting older. Its not because the prior group is already old that aging isn’t a stressor for them. (Calling a 50-something old is just rude, anyway.) On the contrary, older people are privy to a secret that the younger generations are hesitant to accept: The life ahead isn’t what ages you, but rather, it’s the refusal to leave the past behind. The truth is that life only moves in one direction: Forward. Getting older is inevitable, but aging is the one choice we do have as time propels us forward. Older people don’t fear getting older because they know the one thing that makes all the difference: Being stuck in the past is worse than getting older… and here’s why:

You’ll Miss Your Future By Missing The Past

Memories are double-edged swords—there’s no lie about that. The bad ones hurt, and the good ones hurt—if you let them. Ask anyone who is blissfully happy if regret has any place in their lives, and they’ll tell you no. That’s because regret—the chronic kind, at least— is the antithesis of happiness; literally, it’s dictionary definition is to feel sad about something that has already happened. Allowing regret to gouge out a permanent hole in your heart is a guaranteed one-way ticket to a state of unhappiness, and life will pass you by unnoticed until you wake up one day realizing the lost time. What will you have to face then? More regret. You can’t change the past or the things that have happened in it, but it’s your choice to make whether it will also rule your future. You don’t have to forget about the past, but you can forgive it and move on with your life.

On the other hand, sometimes life is so good to us that when those joyous moments pass, we find ourselves yearning to live them again. Alas, no one has invented the mythical time machine, so there’s no way to relive the good times of yesteryear. Yet, the silver lining of this dismal truth is that the future only holds endless opportunities to create more fulfilling memories to go in the scrapbook of your life. Getting stuck in the past with your memories is like going back in time but not being able to participate in it. The beauty of the future—and getting older—is that your participation is always welcome, wanted and warranted.

Age Is Just A Number

Sure, it’s scary to think that time is ticking away, but the idea that it’s “running out” is a figment of our fear that we don’t have enough of it. Time is cyclical, never ending and even arguably nonexistent in some sense. We think of time in increments: Seconds, minutes, hours, days, years—but what does it really matter? Time only lends to age because we say it does. Only people, as a collective group, have decided that age is a significant marker in the course of someone’s life. At 16, you drive; at 18, you vote; at 21, you drink; at 25, you [should] have a solid career; at 30, you [should] have a partner. Who decided all this? Who created all these milestones and paired them up to these numbers? Not time, certainly not age itself—no, we are literally the culprits of our own emotional demise.

A lifespan is linear, yes, but over time people have created such strict markers for all humankind that they have consequently and unnecessarily created a deathly fear of getting older. We riddle our minds with nonsensical scenarios and rhetorical questions that lend no purpose nor benefit. We ask ourselves things, like: What happens if I haven’t done this by this age? What happens if I don’t get to do this by this age? What happens if I wake up one day this old and it’s too late? But there’s no point in stressing about a number that really only makes a difference when setting laws and regulations (and when making sure you’re not cougar-ing it up when prowling for a hottie). Life is what you make of it, and age can either scare you from living it or remind you to enjoy as much as you have of it. Because remember: Time and life have both existed before you were born and will continue on long after you die—so better live it now.

Getting Older Offers Perspective

The singularly best thing about getting older is that perspective becomes your new best friend. As we move through life and experience successes, failures, love and heartbreak, we gradually begin to gain new perspectives previously unbeknownst to us before. We realize that every good comes with a bad, and even bad times lead to good ones, and these individual, diverse experiences eventually lend to certain wisdom that can only come with age. Living in the past means never growing, never evolving, never being able to look at yourself in the mirror and say, “I am proud of who I was and who I’ve become today.” And that’s something you can and will learn to do when as you age because of the perspective you’ll have gained from living life every single day.

Ultimately perspective is about learning to be happy; to be grateful; to be strong; and to be wise. But you’ve got to get older to have it, and that’s reason in itself to face forward and leave the past where it belongs: behind.