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40 Amazing Things About Being in Your 40s

Between the graying hair, the increasingly noticeable wrinkles, and the fact that your formerly perky parts are sinking toward your shoes, it may seem challenging to celebrate your 40s. But celebrate you must! Here's why it's true that life begins at 40.

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3 a.m. feedings are behind you

The average age of first-time mothers in the U.S. is 26, which means that many parents spend their 20s and 30s in a state of perpetual exhaustion. (These are the brutal truths every new mom must know.) All that stress and sleep loss can take a toll, and the associated mental fog and forgetfulness have come to be recognized as symptoms of “momnesia.” But by the time you hit 40, the fog has cleared, the stress of early parenthood has abated, and you’re able to clock long stretches of sweet, uninterrupted sleep every night. Here’s how to make your marriage a priority even when you have young kids.

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…but only if you want them to be

Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) has made it possible for women to extend their fertile years beyond what was possible for earlier generations. Egg freezing, in vitro fertilization, and other therapies mean that women who can afford the often expensive treatments are less beholden to their biological clocks and have more time for finding personal fulfillment through work, travel, friendships, and more before hopping on the baby train. Ask yourself these questions to determine if you’re ready to have a baby.

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People stop asking if you’re having kids (or another one)

Lucky is the thirty-something woman who hasn’t been pestered by a nosy concern troll demanding to know when she’s going to procreate. While some may treat the state of your uterus as public information during your peak childbearing years, those curious busybodies tend to go silent once you’re in your 40s. Speaking of dealing with busybodies, here are 16 explanations you don’t owe anyone.

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You no longer worry so much about what others think

Those gray hairs and wrinkles that keep showing up like marauding teenagers on Halloween night? You’ve earned them through years of love and loss, success and failure, triumphs, and defeats. They’re there to remind you that you’re no longer that wishy-washy twenty-something so desperate to impress others that you end up pretending to care about things you don’t, or doing things you later regret. Over the years you’ve accumulated wisdom and experience, and you’re at home in your own skin. Who cares if your favorite playlist is full of Richard Marx and Train? Certainly not you. You do you, (soul) sister.

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You’ve got more confidence

As you face the second half of your life, it becomes clear that this is the time for taking what you want from life—seizing opportunities and short-circuiting regret. You doubt yourself less than you did when you were younger because you’re more aware of your capabilities. And you’re more willing to take to risks because otherwise you might end up never knowing what might have been. Here are 14 things confident people don’t do—so you shouldn’t either.

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You pay more attention to your health

Sure, your joints may creak and your back might be a little stiff when you wake up in the morning, but overall you’re taking better care of yourself than you did when you were younger because you no longer believe you’re invincible, and you know that taking care of your body now will translate to better quality of life in your later years. So you go easy on Taco Tuesday, you pop a daily multivitamin, you floss more often than the day before your dentist appointment, you make sure to get some exercise, and you no longer think of drinking as a social activity in and of itself.

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You trust your instincts

Bad experiences are good teachers, and by now you’ve had enough of them to recognize toxic people, too-good-to-be-true offers, and situations that might put you in danger. You don’t second-guess yourself into bad situations or let others bully you into things you don’t want to do when you follow your gut. In case you need a little more help listening to your inner voice, here’s how to tap into your intuition for a happier, healthier life.

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You’ve found your signature look

By your 40s, you’ve figured out what looks good on you and you’re no longer trying to shoehorn yourself into the latest trends. Your 40s are all about leveraging what works and investing in classic pieces that make you look and feel great. Just make sure to avoid the style mistakes that make you look older.

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You’ve figured out what you’re good at

By now you’ve achieved some success, either professionally or in your personal life, because you’ve figured out how to play to your strengths. Whether or not your talents and passions align, when you ask yourself what you’re good at, you no longer have to think very hard about the answer.

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You can reverse the signs of aging

Chances are good that you look younger than your mom and dad when they were your age. Why? We know more about anti-aging and skincare strategies than they did, in part. Today, we understand that there’s no such thing as a healthy tan, and many cosmetics and lotions contain ingredients that offer protection from the sun. For those who spent the ’80s working on that golden glow, there are prescription medications such as Retin A, and in-office treatments including intense pulsed light (IPL) that have been shown to reverse sun damage. These are the amazing skin care benefits of lasers.

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Technology keeps you connected

Your 40s are the decade when you’re firing on all cylinders. Career, family, and community obligations can leave you with little time for nurturing personal relationships. Thankfully, you can stay connected in ways that were unimaginable to previous generations. Facebook has rendered high school reunions all but obsolete, since you already know what everyone’s been up to since graduation. Family locator apps such as Life360 enable you to keep tabs on family members’ whereabouts and stay in contact throughout the day, and the ability to fire off a group text message to your closest pals means there’s no good reason for losing touch. Here are some meaningful ways to keep long-distance friendships alive.

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You’ve figured out who your friends are

Making friends was easy when you were young and friendships were forged over a love of the same lip gloss brand or the boy band du jour. By the time you’re in your 40s, you’ve culled the herd, and the friends that remain are the ones who’ve earned the label by showing up for you, supporting you, cheering your successes, and helping you understand hard truths. These are the adult friends every woman should have.

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You know how foods affect you

Some life lessons are learned the hard way, and that’s especially true when it comes to your diet. While you may have been a human garbage disposal in your youth, you’re now familiar enough with the unpleasant outcomes you experience when you overdo it on caffeine, sugar, carbs, grease, spices, and other feel-bad foods. (This is how your body reacts to a binge.) On the other hand, you’ve discovered that some healthy foods make you feel especially great, so you load up on them to keep feeling your best.

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You get that fitness is important

Fitness is no longer about shaping up for bikini season or knocking off as many pounds as possible by the end of the week. Once you hit midlife, you’ve gotten the message that staying mentally and physically fit into old age—and being around to see old age—depends on making exercise a priority. These are the many health benefits of exercise beyond weight loss.

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You’re grateful

The ability to see your own good fortune is one of the greatest gifts of middle age. You no longer take your health, your family, and your successes for granted. Like most people, you’ve either witnessed people in the midst of hardship, or suffered hardships yourself. Those experiences taught you empathy and made you grateful for all of the good things that bring joy to your life. These warm, fuzzy quotes inspire feelings of gratitude.

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This isn’t your parents’ middle age

Middle-aged characters in the popular culture of earlier decades were a sad lot. The women wore overly fussy hairdos and drab clothing, and were often presented as beleaguered housewives or shrill secretaries. Today, pop culture is full of forty-something celebs, such as Eva Longoria, Christina Hendricks, and David Beckham, who really do make one’s 40s seem pretty fabulous.

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You know what you’re worth—and how to ask for it

You’ve racked up some impressive skills and experiences over the course of your career, and people respect you for them. You’ve built relationships, exerted influence, and shown that you’re a valuable employee. You won’t settle for less than you deserve, and you can make a strong case when asking for more. If you still feel anything less than deserving, here’s how to feel more comfortable asking for what you want.

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People stop asking when you’re going to get married

Whether you’re coupled but unmarried or single and searching, you don’t hear as many prying questions about your marital status once you’re out of your 30s. People will assume that you’re happy the way you are, and they’ll stop trying to set you up with that guy from their office. (But if you are in the market, here are the dating mistakes to avoid after 40.)

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You know how to cook something impressive

Few things are more satisfying than wowing guests with an amazing meal. By now, you’ve cooked enough that you have at least one thing that you make really well, and probably more. You can probably throw together a fabulous dinner party or host the entire family for a holiday dinner, which are both things you probably couldn’t have done in your 20s.

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You can tell a great story

By the time you’re 40, you’ve done a lot of living and have had some experiences that make for great stories. You’ve honed your storytelling skills and can mine your history for hilarious, poignant, and awe-inspiring anecdotes that hold your listeners’ attention. You know how to tell a vacation story your friends will actually want to hear.

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Your kids are getting old enough to help out at home

The days of dreading “help” from eager toddlers with poor coordination are likely behind you, and if you’re not enjoying a bit of you time while your kids unload the dishwasher or vacuum the steps, you soon will. This chart shows the chores appropriate for kids of every age.

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You enjoy your own company

There was a time with the thought of dinner or a movie alone might have filled you with dread, as you agonized over what people would think of the poor, friendless singleton out on her own. Now, you’re self-possessed enough to enjoy your own company and what others think of you when you’re out by yourself doesn’t even cross your mind. These are the best vacations to take by yourself.

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You’re done with drama

Whether it’s the cousin who calls several times a day to vent about the latest catastrophe of her own making or the latest Twitter feud making headlines, chances are good that you’re over it. You’re too busy living your life, with all of its ups and downs, to deal with sensationalism and drama. These days, authenticity is where it’s at, though you do still enjoy picking up a trashy magazine at the hair salon.

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You have passions

As you move into your 40s, you may find that the intense focus on family and work responsibilities lets up a bit, as you’re established in your career and kids become more self-sufficient. That leaves time for exploring what you love to do, not just what you need to do. You can take classes, explore your creative interests, and discover new passions. See how these people turned their passion into a profitable career.

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You can change the world

When you see suffering and injustice in the world, you’re now in a position to do more than just fire off a reaction on Facebook. You can effect change by writing a check, getting involved in community groups, and even running for public office. Put your professional and interpersonal skills to work by donating your expertise to the causes that matter to you, and be the change you want to see in the world. At the very least, you can choose to spend your money on companies that donate to charitable causes.

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You can stop feeling guilty about splurging at the cosmetics counter

Luxury skin creams used to seem like a spendy indulgence, but now you can justify them as part of your personal upkeep budget. Just as exercise keeps your brain and body healthy, a good skincare regimen will help you maintain firm, glowing skin. Of course, there’s no evidence that those high-end products are more effective than their drugstore counterparts, but if they make you feel good, what’s the harm? Check out the beauty products worth splurging on, according to experts.

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You’ve learned to say no

When a pushy canvasser shows up at your door or your friend asks you to attend her Cabi party, you’re a pro at responding with a polite but firm no. You safeguard your time and you’re smart about how you spend your money, so you’re not one to crumble under pressure. These days you’re not worried what people will think of you if you if you say no to them—you outgrew that years ago.

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You can let yourself off the hook

If you haven’t gotten around to learning Chinese, getting a black belt in karate, or mastering the violin by now, it’s probably not going to happen. And there’s something liberating about laying some of your more unrealistic dreams to rest so that you can focus on the ones you can achieve. Look to the late Julia Child for inspiration—she was 37 when she started culinary school, and 49 when Mastering the Art of French Cooking was published.

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Forgiveness comes more easily

As we get older, it gets easier to forgive and forget. We’ve made our share of mistakes and we recognize that sometimes we all make bad choices or careless decisions. We’re less likely to think in absolutes and to see people as good or bad, and more inclined to assume that people generally act with good intentions. Don’t miss these inspiring stories of forgiveness.

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You like what you like

While you’re still open to new things, your tastes in music, food, fashion, and people are largely established by now. You’re no longer chasing the hot new thing or jump on board with every passing trend, which means you’re done feeling ashamed of all of the uncool things you like.

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You appreciate quality

You’ve learned through experience that some things are worth the money. If you scrimp on wine, pillows, or a haircut, you’ll probably regret it. But you know what you care about better than anyone, and those are the things you splurge on. (These are the tricks for spotting a well-made piece of clothing.)

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You’re less afraid of failure

By the time you’re in your 40s, you’ve tried lots of things and failed at a lot of them. And for the most part, nothing that bad happened. You’ve developed resilience over time, so that when you do fail, you can pick yourself up and try again, or move on to the next thing. You know better than to let failure define you. These outrageous ideas that failed spectacularly will give you a good laugh.

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You can afford some luxuries

Some of the things you could only dream about when you were young and using one credit card to make the minimum payment on another are now within reach. A swoon-worthy handbag, an heirloom-quality watch, or the vacation of a lifetime are probably within the realm of possibility. You’ve built up some earning power, socked away some savings, and now have a little left over for something special.

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… and some grand gestures

One of the true luxuries of adulthood is being able to splurge on others. You can send your parents on a trip to thank them for all their years of support and devotion to you, or do something thoughtful for a friend who’s going through a rough time. Spending big on someone else makes you feel good—and it’s something you can finally afford to do. Here’s how to give a truly meaningful gift, according to science.

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You’ve made peace with your looks

Let’s face it: If you don’t look like a supermodel now, you probably never will. But even supermodels don’t look like themselves after the magic of Photoshop, so why sweat it? And the range of looks that are considered beautiful is constantly expanding—just check out the confidence tips of plus-size supermodels. You’ve come to appreciate your quirks and the features that make you unique. You know how to play up your attributes to their best advantage and choose makeup and clothing that flatters you. So leave contouring tutorials to the twenty-somethings—you’re too busy living life to obsess over your looks.

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You’ve stopped comparing yourself to others

When your friend gets promoted, buys a beach house, or sells a novel, you’re genuinely happy for her. You revel in her successes as you do your own, knowing that life is full of ups and downs, and that there’s no finite quantity of luck in the world. Good things happen for you as often as they do for others, and that’s something to celebrate.

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People seek your advice

You’ve accumulated wisdom along with your years, and it’s a pretty cool feeling when younger people seek you out for it. Sharing your knowledge and experience helps you understand your worth to those who value your opinions.

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You know that your “beach body” is just your body at the beach

Crash diets and tanning beds? You don’t need them. The spectrum of beautiful bodies is vast, and includes those that have birthed children, gained and lost weight, and carried us into adulthood. So embrace your beach body and celebrate its awesome capabilities. These empowering pictures prove there’s no such thing as a bikini body.

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You’ve figured out whether God exists—or you don’t care either way

Maybe you were raised believing one thing and you still adhere to that faith (or lack thereof), or maybe you’ve tried on multiple forms of spirituality before finding the right fit. By now, you’ve probably defined what you believe in, and what spirituality means to you. Whether you belong to an organized religion or not, here’s why prayer can be powerful.

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Most of the big problems have been solved

By your 40s, you’ve already addressed most of life’s big questions. You’ve attended college and chosen a major, or not. You’ve settled on a career, chosen a partner, and decided whether to have children. With the big issues settled, you can focus on improving the quality of your relationships and your satisfaction with your career as you look toward the years ahead. These are the 50 best simple pleasures that make life worth living.

Susannah Bradley
Susannah Bradley is a Portland, Oregeon-based writer specializing in travel, health, food, beauty, and fashion. Her work has appeared in The Seattle Times, Us Weekly, MSN.com, Sheknows.com, and other publications.