A compelling argument can be made that the aging of America and the world is reshaping what constitutes “success” and who is considered “successful.” For human beings, the third act of life is typically a phase characterized by expansive personal growth and even higher dimensions of consciousness, and thus not at all a period of decline as society tells us. These years are often filled with the big stuff of life—gaining experience and wisdom, realizing one’s full potential, advancing one’s spirituality, embracing aging, and, for some, passing it all on to grandchildren—all things that have a direct impact on the notion of success.
Decades of research into life’s rich pageant, most notably George Vaillant’s work documented in his book Triumphs of Experience, have shown that people do indeed continually progress as they get older, and frequently realize greater fulfillment than when they were younger. When viewed from such a perspective, being successful is not a matter of what one has financially or materially accumulated but how much one has evolved as a human being, a huge and encouraging point of difference that could perhaps trickle down through future generations.
A wholesale recasting of the idea of success thus could be in the works due to the peace of mind many baby boomers—the largest generation in history until Millennials came along—are beginning to experience as they head through their sixties and seventies. There is a common belief among boomers that one is now playing with house money, meaning they feel they have already lived a full life and that anything good that happens to them at this point is a bonus. Every day is a gift to be appreciated and savored, some can say in all honesty, a wonderful luxury to be able to possess. For many boomers like myself, the physical signs of aging are offset by an accumulation of personal growth and wisdom, a function of life experience and a greater awareness of one’s own mortality.
Research does indeed show that aging does often bring a greater sense of well-being and emotional contentedness, with the demons of youth mostly gone and the compulsions of both id and ego mostly sated. Older people are slower to get angry and are more likely to see the bright side of complicated situations, studies also have revealed, with conflict-solving another skill acquired through experience. As well, boomers are prone to forgive and forget when things go south in a relationship, a reflection of their ability to see the bigger picture. A kinder, gentler interpretation of success may thus emerge from this age wave, an especially sanguine development for everyone.