People don’t talk to each other enough about aging. Or when they do, it’s mostly in flippant ways. “Enjoy your youth while it lasts,” middle-aged people sometimes say to their younger friends. But how is that helpful? It doesn’t tell you anything meaningful about what turning 40 actually feels like. Whether it’s younger people not asking enough questions or middle-aged people being too vague with their answers, it seems like many of us reach that important age milestone completely clueless about what to expect.
Let’s take some of the mystery out of the big 4-0. Here are 40 things we wish someone had told us about what really happens when we hit that pivotal birthday. And for more aging hacks, see the 40 Ways to Make New Friends in Your 40s.
Being 40 doesn’t feel especially old.
When you’re younger, 40 sounds really old, like Wilford Brimley old. The kind of old where all you do is complain about your aches and pains. But most 40-year-olds don’t feel like old fogies just yet. With few exceptions, you can do everything you did in your 20s and 30s, but now with more confidence. And for more insights into this greatest decade, don’t miss the 40 Best Books about Getting Older.
You feel more comfortable in your skin.
When you’ve been in the same body for long enough, you eventually learn to stop beating yourself up for what you’re not. All that anxiety about whether you’re thin enough or too thin or too fat or not muscular enough starts to fade away.
You don’t care as much about being cool.
Not only does it not matter to you anymore, you’re flummoxed why it ever mattered at all. The inane struggle to be considered cool is what results in 99 percent of stupid behavior on the planet.
You regret the friends you let slip away.
Friends are only forever if you nurture those relationships. If you don’t make an effort to keep them in your life, they will disappear. And by the time you’re 40, you’ll realize that your once large community of friends has dwindled. Don’t be the 40-year-old who only keeps in touch with friends by liking their photos on Facebook. And for ways to recoup your social losses, learn the 40 Ways to Make New Friends in Your 40s.
You’re more acutely aware that time is precious.
Remember all those weddings you went to in your 20s and 30s? In your 40s, those social obligations start to get replaced by reunions and funerals. You may be feeling better than ever, but all around you is proof that nobody lives forever and you’ve got to make every day count.
Hair is a luxury.
You might be one of the lucky ones doesn’t start to lose his hair in his 40s, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t at least a little nervous every time you run a comb through your hair. The stats: 40 percent of men lose some or all of their hair in their 40s. We don’t know about you, but we don’t like those odds! And if you want to keep your hair for as long as possible, check out the 15 Ways You’re Washing Your Hair Wrong.
You start making weird noises.
As at least one comic has observed, a 40-year-old person trying to get out of the chair sounds an awful lot like an old Honda trying to roll out of a snowbank. What are those unfamiliar grunting sounds coming out of you, and when did the simple act of standing up suddenly require extra effort?
You’re finally able to tell your inner critic to can it.
If you wasted too much of your youth listening to the critical voices in your head, telling you that you’re no good and to just give up already, you’ll be thrilled to learn that it’s much easier in your 40s to tune it out. Maybe it’s just from years of experience, discovering again and again that your inner critic doesn’t have any freaking idea what he’s talking about.
You ask for help when you need it.
A 40-year-old can’t afford to be stubborn, even when his pride insists that he could go it alone. There’s no weakness in asking for help or letting your friends and family lend a hand when you need it. It’s humbling, really, to finally let go of your white-knuckled grip on independence and realize how much other people care.
You’re more discerning.
It’s not that you have less hangovers when you’re 40. It’s that you’re less tolerant of bottom-shelf booze. If you’re going to wake up the next morning with a splitting headache, it’ll be because you finished a bottle of $40 Napa wine.
You understand now that success never walks a straight path.
Navigating a career can be unpredictable. The job you thought you’d stay at until retirement turns out to be not so stable after all. But at 40, you’ve likely experienced job losses that felt at the time like the end of the world, and yet you lived to fight another day. So now you’re less insecure about tomorrow’s uncertainties.
Your sex life is the best it’s ever been.
There’s less insecurity, less judging your performance by impossible standards, and more just enjoying the moment. Nobody is more grateful and excited about being uninhibited and unclothed with another human being than a 40-year-old.
You stop freaking out about what you’re going to be when you “grow up.”
Spoiler alert: You are a grown up now. Whatever you’re doing with your days right, well, that’s pretty much what you decided to do when you “grow up.”
You’re quicker to give up on toxic relationships.
You honestly can’t believe you once gave so much of your time and energy to jerks who were never worth the effort. Your radar for detecting when you’re being taken advantage of, or when the respect is anything but mutual, is operating at an all-time high. For an idea of what type of relationship to bounce from, stat, learn the 20 Surefire Signs Your Relationship Is Over.
You stop making decisions based on guilt.
Emotional manipulation is not something you’re likely to fall for any more, and being a martyr has lost all its appeal. There’s a time and place when saying yes to anything because you’re afraid of letting people down sounds like a good strategy, and being in your 40s isn’t it.
You stop taking your health for granted.
Getting an annual colonoscopy or regular mammogram every year isn’t much fun—in fact, your new medical ritual might be one of the most depressing things about turning 40—but unlike the devil-may-care attitude of your younger years, you realize that good health is a blessing not a privilege. If you want to be around for the long haul, you need to check under the hood occasionally.
You realize that most of your concerns aren’t the end of the world.
Stress is never going to go completely away, even in your 40s. But at least you start to finally put those stresses in perspective. The vast majority of things that make people worried and annoyed and freaked out are not worth all that mental energy. It may not seem like it now, but everything really is going to be okay. Just ask a 40-year-old.
You realize you should have traveled more when you were younger.
It’s never too late to pick up a backpack and go explore a foreign country. But it’s definitely a lot harder than it was when you were in your 20s and didn’t have quite so many responsibilities yet. Not a single person on their deathbed has ever said, “I sure am glad I got a full-time job right out of high school and skipped out on traveling the world.”
You wish you’d put more away in savings.
It doesn’t take much, just a few dollars from every paycheck that goes straight to your savings. You’ll barely miss it, but when you reach 40 and realize how important a savings can be, you’ll be grateful for every penny you saved for tomorrow. And if you need some assistance in this department, see the 40 Ways to Seriously Boost Your Savings After 40.
It’s easier to say no.
Fear of missing out? A 40-year-old laughs at such anxieties. Because, you know what? You’re not missing out on anything. A 40-year-old has seen enough and experienced enough to earn the right to say “no” and stay in and sleep as often as he or she wants.
Nobody condescends to you anymore because they think you’re too young.
Sure, you don’t get carded as much as he used to. But you’ll never again have another conversation in which somebody assumes that you don’t know what they’re talking about because you’re “too young to understand.”
You’re not afraid to ask for what you want.
You used to think that was being pushy, but at 40 you realize that most good things come to those who ask. There’s really no harm in asking for what you want, because you deserve it and the worst they can say is no.
You wear what you want.
So the clothes you used to think were hip in your 20s are now ironic Halloween costumes? Who cares? You’re finally able to pick your clothes based on what you like and not what happens to be the fashion trend of the moment.
You can no longer pull off a convincing fist bump.
It’ll always look like bad stage combat at a community theater.
You have a paunch.
As Bob Hope once observed, “Middle age is when your age starts to show around your middle.” And he wasn’t kidding. Even if you never had a belly in your life, you might notice at 40 that your mid-section is starting to expand.
Your favorite music becomes “classic rock.”
You never thought it would come to this, but the music you used to think was so edgy and underground, designed to anger the Establishment (or at least your parents), is now considered “classic” rock. As in, music that used to be relevant but isn’t relevant anymore except for retro parties. Oh the humanity!
Even if you get eight hours of sleep, you still wake up exhausted.
The truth is, no amount of sleep is going to feel like enough anymore. You need at least an entire pot of coffee and a solid block of alone time before you’re even slightly ready for the day. And if you need help kickstarting your body in the a.m., learn the 15 Ways to Bounce Back from a Poor Night’s Sleep.
Your opinions have more gravitas.
Does wisdom come with age? Possibly. (Though, to be fair, dumb people come in all ages.) But the thing is, other people often assume that older means wiser. So they pay a little closer attention to your opinions.
You trade the bikini for more conservative digs.
Not because you don’t have a rockin’ bod, you’re just not as interested in sharing it with strangers anymore. Because really, what is a bikini but an invitation for people you don’t know to better imagine what’s underneath? No 40 year old has time for that.
You start forgetting things more often.
You know what’s his face, from the thing? His name is on the tip of your tongue. It’s not just an actor whose name you swear will come back to you eventually, you start forgetting pretty much everything: What you came to the grocery store to buy, whether you already shampooed your hair while you’re still standing in the shower, all the pesky details your brain just can’t be bothered to remember anymore.
Your lower back is kind of a jerk.
Did you throw it out trying to lift something far too heavy? Probably not. At 40, your back just vaguely hurts now. All the time. For no apparent reason. If you need help combatting it, learn How to Conquer Lower Back Pain Forever.
Laugh lines and crow’s feet are charming.
All that time you wasted in your 20s worrying about wrinkles, terrified of even the smallest sign of age on your face. At 40, when your wrinkles start becoming more pronounced, you realize that they’re not really so bad. How can you be mad at something called “laugh lines”? They’re lines you get from laughing. If they were really such a terrible thing, we’d call them “constant weeping lines.”
You no longer have to pretend like you know something.
Ah, the awkwardness of youth, when you don’t have all the answers yet but you’re going to pretend like you do anyway. At 40, you’ve seen enough and read enough that you’re able to talk on a wide range of topics without faking it. And when you don’t know something, you’re smart enough to keep your mouth closed.
Public speaking doesn’t feel so much like torture.
You can get up in front of a crowd and say things to them without breaking out into a cold sweat. Why? Because after years of public speaking, giving toasts at weddings and presentations at work, you start to find your rhythm and realize that it’s actually pretty easy and not nearly as excruciating as you once thought.
Gravity is no longer your friend.
What’s the nice way to say this? Over time, there are parts of your body—namely, your skin—that droop more than they used to.
Everybody in their 20s look like they’re ten.
A 21-year-old used to look like just another person, like someone you might be friends with or could see yourself hanging out with at a bar. But now when you see a 21-year-old, your first thought is usually, “Wow, he doesn’t look a day over 14! No way that guy is old enough to drink!”
You kinda wish you had taken more racy selfies when you were younger.
Not to share with anybody, obviously, but just as a personal memento—photographic evidence, if you will—of what your body once looked like.
You find the right balance between work and life.
You love your career and you love your friends and family, and it can be a real challenge to make equal time for both. But at 40, you’ve been struggling with this dilemma long enough that you start to realize, hey, this isn’t rocket science. Don’t let your work bleed into your home life—you can and should put down the phone at dinner time—and it’s okay to prioritize your career from time to time, even if it disappoints the people you love. You can have it all, after all.
Reading the fine print is dang near impossible.
And where the heck did we leave our glasses anyway? Ugh, this whole “reading” thing has gotten so complicated.
You’re not as susceptible to peer pressure anymore.
You know who never ate a laundry detergent pod because some strangers on the Internet dared them to do it? A 40-year-old, that’s who.
To discover more amazing secrets about living your best life, click here to sign up for our FREE daily newsletter!