Summers on the cusp of adulthood can be a carefree, joyful exploration of the world and our own selves. How, asks Annabel Harrison, can you recapture your youth in later years?
‘Youth is the celebration of life, youth is the spirit of discovery.’ These words by Himalayan sonneteer Abhijit Naskarring true as I recall my late teens and twenties – a youth I would love to recapture. Hazy, lazy, long summers with the best of friends and new best friends – the kind you meet at a beach bar, spend an evening with, putting the world to rights over sunset cocktails, and, a day later, find yourself on a bus with, continuing across Mexico.
I celebrated life in all its glory, from flitting between the sand-fringed islands of Thailand – a cliched gap year rite of passage, but what a summer – to dancing at the famously freeing, soul-nourishing Glastonbury festival. My memories are crowded with people I met, places I intended to visit (and accidentally discovered), new modes of transport, daring activities – like whitewater rafting in Australia – and plans that changed at the drop of a hat; something that did a then-perfectionist like me a great deal of good.
A cloak of responsibility was yet to descend, and I was absolutely immersed in Naskar’s ‘spirit of discovery’. At the time I’d have said this was entirely geographical but I now realise I learned a great deal more than the quirks of a new city. That friend I idolised? I was seeing her through the rose-tinted lens of youth – she is amazing but not immortal. The way I spent the money I had saved for my travels? I’m glad I did but I wouldn’t now.
As life rolls on, it does become more predictable, with other people’s wants and needs often taking precedence over our own. I’m lucky to have a bank of memories from boundless, brilliant summers that taught me many lessons I was oblivious to at the time. But I’d say no if offered the chance to repeat my twenties. Would many, if any, of us want to revisit the emotional turbulence of first jobs and first redundancies, first loves and first heartbreaks, navigating flat-shares and frenemies?
The unscheduled freedom of youth usually becomes less accessible in one’s thirties, forties and beyond – often due to careers, children, ageing parents or all of the above. But it’s still possible to recapture your youth, to find again that carefree feeling. It just might have to be less spontaneous. I say yes to any nuptials I’m invited to, because one of the things I love most (and have fewest opportunities to do) is dancing for hours to a wedding band. I book that must-see play or gig the moment I see it advertised so I don’t have time to come up with reasons why I can’t go. I’m proactive with new friends walking the same path as me – mostly those with children who will be at the same school for the next fifteen years – and I cherish (yes, you can cherish via WhatsApp) old friends more than ever.
In fact, these relationships play a key part in happiness as we get older. Author and GP Dr Rangan Chatterjee, on a mission to improve the nation’s health and happiness, cites spending time with friends as more important than we might think. It is a key component in reducing stress and loneliness, and he urges us all to commit regularly to activities with friends. Redefining a successful week can also impact our feelings. ‘Happiness habits’, Chatterjee believes, are very helpful in this respect: ‘Write down three things that give you an intense feeling of wellbeing. See if you can do them all each week. For example, a successful week for you might include a walk, an Epsom salt bath and three meals at the table with your family. Or it might be spending time with a close friend, time to play your guitar and lunch with your mum. Your happiness habits will be unique to you.’
So, to recapture my youth, I’m making room for ‘happiness habits’ that look quite different from those of my youth but give me self-worth, energy, creative expression and satisfaction in new ways: running, making time to hop off the chore conveyor belt and be silly with my children, saying ‘yes’ to all social events with the university ‘girls’ – now very much women – and writing a book. ‘Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty,’ mused Henry Ford. ‘Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.’