50 Ways Your Priorities Change After 50
Half a century down, tons of growth to go.
There are few milestones in a person’s life that feel quite as momentous as turning 50. With half a century under your belt, you have the experience and the wisdom to know how important it is to make the most of the time you’ve got left. And there’s plenty of it!
“Between the ages of 40 and 60, we go through the stage of generativity versus stagnation,” says therapist Erika Miley, M.Ed., LMHC. “During this time of life, we are discovering a sense of [how we] contribute to the world.”
It’s the period of your life that’s notoriously associated with midlife crises, but it’s actually a huge opportunity to figure out what really matters to you. “Many people will change their priorities based on their feelings of uncertainty of their purpose,” says Miley.
With that in mind, we’ve rounded up the top ways your life gets forever altered in your older years, with advice from experts about what to expect.
You’re less focused on your children.
While the average age of first-time parents in the United States continues to climb, most people who choose to have children are far beyond the infant and toddler stages by the time they hit 50. Many have teenage or even adult children by the time 50 rolls around, which means parents are often free to start focusing on themselves again.
“The shift in priorities goes from being focused on raising children to learning how to fill an ‘empty nest,'” says Dr. Jaime Kulaga, Ph.D., LMHC. “People in their 50s may find that their focus is less on raising children and more on learning about who they are.”
You’re rediscovering your relationship.
With your kids being less dependent on you for everything, your 50s are a great time to start prioritizing your relationship once again.
“Once the children are out of the home, couples and individuals will find more time in general to be able to give to themselves,” says Kulaga. “Take this time to explore new hobbies, find more couple’s activities, and tap into all those things you always said, ‘I don’t have time for that.'”
You’re thinking about retirement.
It may have once seemed to be decades away, but by the time you’re 50, retirement isn’t that far off anymore. For many people, that means making those future glorious years away from the office a top priority.
“Around age 50, most people take thinking about retirement very seriously,” says Kulaga. “Either they begin saving for the first time, save more than before, or begin creating a plan with the money they do have for retirement.”
You start doing the things that bring you joy.
By the time you hit 50, those people-pleasing tendencies you clung to in your earlier years have fallen by the wayside.
At 50, people start to realized that “what matters most in life is their happiness and the happiness that they bring to those they love and care for,” says Kulaga. “The shift goes from caring about what others think to focusing on what brings them joy and fulfillment.”
“Life is no longer about taking the best selfie and getting a bunch of likes, but rather being your best self and liking yourself,” she adds.
You prioritize people over things.
“A person’s priorities change after 50 because their peer group, needs, and wants, as well as the realization that time is no longer on their side, all come into play,” says Dr. Cali Estes, Ph.D., founder of The Addictions Coach.
So, what does this mean in terms of your priorities? “You begin to realize that love and people are more important than a new car or a huge house.”
Your career might take a backseat to your personal life.
After nearly three decades in the workforce, you realize that getting a bigger office or better job title isn’t the only thing worth striving for.
“By the time you hit 50, things like career advancement are not as important as time you have to spend with loved ones,” says Estes.
You know that kindness is key.
Ambition has its place, but by 50, you know being a good person is every bit as important as being at the top of your game. At this age, you truly realize that if you want to be treated nicely, then it pays to be nice.
“Living by the golden rule is now in the forefront at this midpoint age—and the key to living their best life is not wasting energy on arguments,” says Lanada Williams, a licensed psychotherapist, based in Washington, D.C.
You focus more on your physical wellbeing.
The health of your financial portfolio isn’t the only kind of wellness you’ll want to invest in by the time you turn the big 5-0.
“Making sure your lifestyle, habits, and attitudes are consistent with maintaining your personal health and well-being is crucial to making the coming years feel like a reward for all your hard work,” says Dr. Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., LMFT.
You start to see your children as peers.
You may not be the primary source of support and comfort for your children by the time you hit 50, but you’re likely taking on a new role. For many parents, this means being more of a peer and friend to their now-adult children.
You find yourself seeking direction again.
Those feelings of aimlessness you had in your 20s are back with a vengeance by the time 50 rolls around, potentially causing a dramatic shift in your priorities along the way.
“After many years of being a responsible, hardworking adult and (for most) focusing on taking care of others at home, at work, and in family relationships, many people find that they don’t know what they want for themselves,” says Tessina.
You begin to learn what really makes life worthwhile to you.
There is a positive result to that aimlessness, though: You’ll find out what you really want. “It’s time to learn how to make the decisions that create the enriched, satisfying experience you always hoped your life would be,” says Tessina. “It’s time to discover what satisfaction means for you, and how to refocus your life to create more of it.” And for more ways to improve your life, check out these 75 Genius Tricks to Get Instantly Happy.
You stop taking things so seriously.
Those embarrassments, regrets, and things you took super-seriously in your earlier life stop seeming like such a big deal with the added perspective you’ve gained by your 50s.
“Your ability to take pleasure in life, to ‘lighten up,’ and to find the fun in a simple moment may have been suppressed over the years,” says Tessina. “For some people, reconnecting with their lighthearted selves may simply require an attitude change; for others it requires major decisions to simplify and reshape their goals.” Wherever you are at, she says, “it’s time to learn how to make the decisions that free you up to have more fun.”
Your focus shifts to making your mark on the world.
“After 50, I want to leave my mark, more so than before,” says Talya Miron-Shatz, Ph.D., CEO of Buddy&Soul. “In a way, it’s as if I’ve built myself up to here, and now I need to make something out of it.”
You want to make a difference.
It’s not just making your mark that matters; making a difference becomes a major priority in your 50s, as well. “I have more energy—mental and physical—to give to the world,” says Miron-Shatz of her 50s. “The gaze is turned upward though, not just outward. I’m not looking for approval and ‘likes’; I’m looking to make a difference.”
You revisit that bucket list.
While you still have decades to look forward to when you turn 50, for many people, those bucket list items start to be a priority around this time.
“People begin to spend more time thinking about their legacy, and what are the most important tasks they desire to accomplish,” says therapist Vanessa Watson, LCSW. “When people reach 50, they are seeking greater meaning and purpose in the second half of life ”
You may have a sexual awakening.
Sex may be better than ever in your 50s. “Women in their 50s in particular are more comfortable in their bodies and experience a sexual awakening because they are free from the worry of unintended pregnancy,” says Watson.
You finally get to pursue those things you’ve always wanted to enjoy.
Being an empty nester has some serious benefits, especially in terms of prioritizing your happiness over the needs of others.
“People in their 50s have less dependent childcare worries and have more disposable income to travel and pursue activities they did not have the time or financial means to enjoy,” says Watson.
You aren’t constrained by worries about your body.
While turning 50 certainly doesn’t mean you stop caring about looking attractive, your confidence has increased over the years and you’re no longer spending time worrying about what other people think about you.
“Over-50 women know and have more confidence in what works for them, what they like, and how to please themselves—and possibly their partner, too. That confidence is relaxing,” says Dr. Gail Saltz, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at Weill-Cornell Medical College in New York.
You’re more willing to compromise.
Abiding by those hard-and-fast relationship rules you once lived by doesn’t feel as important by the time you hit 50.
“If you are in a long-term relationship, you have learned how to communicate, negotiate, compromise, and respect individual differences,” says Kerin Groves, a career coach and licensed counselor in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
You know how to pick your battles.
By the time you hit 50, that office drama you once allowed yourself to get mired in doesn’t seem like a worthwhile use of your time anymore.
“In the workplace, you have navigated the chain of command and figured out which battles are worth fighting,” explains Groves.
Your role as a parent has changed.
If you have kids, by the time you’re in your 50s, your role in their lives has likely changed dramatically.
“You have now forged adult relationships with your children and the power struggles have subsided,” says Groves.
You start making up for lost time.
At 50, “your physical body may be losing ground, but you feel younger inside than you look,” according to Groves. “You’ve discovered that the clock is ticking, and it’s your life to make!” Whether that means hitting up a concert on a Wednesday at midnight or joining Tinder post-divorce, it’s up to you.
Sex plays a new part in your life.
“The role of sex changes,” says author David Johnson, a marriage and family therapist. “It moves from ‘I’ve got to have sex’ to ‘I want to have sex.”
Johnson says this is because of a couple of different factors. “The first reason is about self and the release of hormones that results from having an orgasm, while the second reason is about the pleasure one receives from giving pleasure to their partner,” he says. “As one man said, ‘I may not always make it to the finish line, but I sure do enjoy running around the track.'”
You’re more concerned about your family’s financial future after you’re gone.
By the time you’re in your 50s, you’re looking well into the future when it comes to finances. In some cases, that means starting to think not just about retirement, but about how your family might fare after you’re gone. It’s a time when you start maxing out your retirement accounts, paying off debt, and making sure your will is in order should anything happen to you.
You’re more grateful for what you have than envious of what you don’t.
A little gratitude can go a long way at any point in life, but if you’re eager to make the most of your 50s, it’s essential. Fortunately, many people find that as they enter this period in their life, they no longer prioritize the things they want. Instead, people in their 50s find themselves overwhelmed with gratitude at the abundance life has already provided them.
You want to let go of bad habits.
While it may have been easy to ignore the effects of those late nights, extra cocktails, or occasional cigarettes you smoked a few decades earlier, by the time you’re 50, your health may be weighing heavily on your mind. As a result, those vices tend to lose whatever appeal they had left.
You start taking those doctor’s visits seriously.
A blood pressure reading that’s a bit above normal? A few pounds gained? You might not have considered those cause for serious concern in your 20s or 30s, but by 50, you know just how hard it is to get back on a healthy track when you’ve veered off. This is a time when you start taking that advice your doctor is giving you to heart.
You stop doing things just to impress others.
Are you dying to get that car because you really want it, or because you think your neighbors will be impressed? By the time you’re 50, you’ll know the difference. At this age, it’s easier to identify the things you want versus the things you feel pressured to want by your friends, family members, colleagues, or society at large.
You care more about looking good than looking young.
At 30, you might have had an existential crisis when people stopped asking for your ID at bars. At 50, you know that looking young isn’t everything—and you start making looking good (and not just for your age) more of a priority.
You stop letting loneliness influence your decisions.
Avoiding alone time tends to be a major priority for many adolescents and young adults. However, by the time you’ve reached the half-century mark, the idea of going to a party where you don’t know anyone or heading to a bar when you’re exhausted seems like a waste of your time. You now know that loneliness isn’t the end of the world, and you make a point to engage in social activities because you actually enjoy them, not just because they mean you’ll have people around.
You’re not worried about boredom.
While you may have quit jobs or ended relationships when things got too comfortable in your 20s, by 50, you realize that “exciting” isn’t always synonymous with “better.” At 50, you’re more comfortable staying in a relationship that’s happy, if not always full of fireworks, or sticking with a career that provides stability, even if it’s not exactly flashy.
You don’t care as much about what other people think of you.
In your 50s, you no longer put the opinions of others before your own. That may translate to more self-confidence for some, and for others, it can mean doing something wild and uncharacteristic—like getting your nose pierced, perhaps—and not caring how it comes across to others.
You realize that your mental health is as important as your physical health.
While your physical health may have been at the top of your priority list during your younger life, in your 50s, you come to realize that your mental health is just as valuable. Fortunately, for those who find themselves eager to focus more on their mental wellness, the stigma against seeking mental health treatment has been diminishing for years. According to a survey from the American Psychological Association (APA), only 30 percent of those polled indicated any concern that others might find out they were getting mental health treatment. And if you want to improve your own mental health, start with The 25 Best Instant Mood Boosters.
You start budgeting for medical expenses.
Saving for retirement isn’t the only way your financial priorities shift after 50. According to the National Council on Aging, 80 percent of older adults have at least one chronic disease, and 77 percent have two or more. That means that building an emergency fund should be on your to-do list by the time 50 rolls around.
You value intimacy.
Having a ton of people around all the time is likely not a major priority by the time you hit 50. Instead, having intimate connections with those you do spend time with in the form of inside jokes, romance, or just meaningful companionship tends to trump being constantly surrounded by others.
You’re more altruistic.
In your 50s, your finances and relationships are likely more solid than they were a few decades ago, which means it’s easier to prioritize doing good deeds for others, not just improving your own life. In fact, research conducted at the Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care reveals that older adults who spend time volunteering are healthier—both mentally and physically—and happier, too. If you want to give back, start with these 33 Charitable Opportunities to Participate in This Holiday Season.
You cut toxic relationships out of your life.
By age 50, you know the difference between a frenemy, whose loyalty you always question, and a true friend, the kind who always has your back and steps up to the plate when you need them. When you begin to prioritize the latter type of relationship in your 50s, it’s easier to cast off those toxic ones, like those mooching friends or love interests who never quite reciprocate your feelings.
You value people who’ve been there for you in the past.
Similarly, you also start recognizing and appreciating the positive things in life, like those friends who’ve been with you for years. Your 50s are the perfect time to reconnect or spend more time with those you value most.
You’re a new kind of caretaker.
“Many people find that just as they are being relieved of some of the responsibility for their children, they are taking on the burden of caring for aging parents or grandparents,” says Tessina. “These factors impact your family decisions and your personal life in profound ways.” For some people over 50, this may mean reconnecting with family members you’ve lost touch with over the years or making amends with others with whom you’ve had falling outs.
You’re focused on self-sufficiency.
With 50 years of life experience behind you, the days of relying on anyone else for your wants and needs are certainly in the rearview mirror. Instead, you prioritize your own self-sufficiency, especially as you see friends and family members struggle to take care of loved ones. Now’s the perfect time to learn to make those home repairs, max out your retirement accounts, and prepare that dish you used to claim only your significant other knew how to make.
You make peace with people from your past.
Holding onto grudges is harmful both mentally and physically—it can actually increase the amount of stress hormone cortisol that your body produces. However, as you round the corner into your 50s, it’s easier than ever to drop those grudges for good. The added perspective a few more decades of adulthood provides makes it easier to choose peace over anger.
You don’t give in to social pressure.
So what if you’re “supposed to” get married and have kids? So what if don’t want to go after that big promotion? By 50, you know what your priorities are and aren’t afraid to admit when certain things just don’t make the cut.
You worry less about setting huge goals.
Though you’ve still got plenty of time left to accomplish things, those lofty goals you once set for yourself don’t seem like such worthwhile pursuits in the second half of your life. Instead, you prioritize achievable goals, allowing yourself to reap the well-earned satisfaction when you accomplish them.
You value your ability to stand up for yourself.
Continuing to play the shrinking violet to avoid stepping on toes stops sounding like the right move by the time you’re 50. Instead, you know that your voice is as valuable as anyone else’s and you aren’t ashamed to let it be heard, no matter how many feathers you may ruffle in the process.
You admit that you’re wrong.
Turning 50 means you’re old enough to admit when you’re wrong about something. Over the course of your five decades, you’ve learned that admitting you’re wrong about something is the quickest way to move on from your mistake.
You get comfortable changing your mind.
Just because you’re over 50 doesn’t mean all of your opinions have to be set in stone. In fact, you see your ability and willingness to change your —whether about politics, relationships, or just the furniture in your living room—as a positive attribute, not a negative one.
You learn that balance is key.
While you may have thought nothing of working 12-hour days at 25, by 50, you know that there is absolutely such a thing as doing too much. With that in mind, it’s more important than ever to work toward that elusive balance in life, weighing your personal well-being, hobbies, career, and relationships in a way that works for you and the people you love.
Your idea of success shifts.
You used to have a clear picture of what success looked like: a flashy job, big house, expensive car, attractive spouse, and well-mannered kids. However, by the time you’re 50, you realize that your idea of success doesn’t have to even remotely resemble anyone else’s. If feeling good about yourself and getting to do things you love is your own version, so be it!
You stop doing things out of fear.
One of the nicest things about being in your 50s? No more FOMO: fear of missing out. You no longer let fear be a determining factor in what you either do or don’t do with your time.
You realize that happiness is a worthwhile pursuit.
At age 50, you know that being happy isn’t just a nice bonus—it’s a worthwhile pursuit all on its own. You realize that being satisfied, proud of yourself, and generally content—not just constantly striving to be better—can indelibly change your life. And if you want to get happier now, start by practicing these 20 Top Tricks from Therapists on Finding Happiness.
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