When I turned 40 my mom’s cousin sent me a book called Life Begins at FORTY written by Walter B. Pitkin. My grandmother had given the book to my great-grandma when she turned 40 and typical of the women in my family, Gram had saved it and re-gifted it back to my grandma when she turned 40. My grandma in turn, gave it to her next oldest sister, and she to the third sister. Then, when my mom (the oldest child of the next generation) turned 40, she received the book. And so on…

The amazing piece is that many of the recipients wrote a note reflecting on their own lives as they turned 40, thoughts about the book, or admissions that they didn’t actually read it (got to love the honesty). The notes from different people were…well, remarkable and lovely and such a wonderful glimpse into the lives and thoughts of my extended family.

While the book wasn’t riveting, it was interesting and definitely shared a few nuggets that I’ve thought about quite a bit since reading (yes, I actually read!) the gift.

As I wrote my next youngest cousin a reflection as I prepared to send it for her 40th birthday, the book and accompanying notes seemed like a warm hug from the generations of women (and a few men) that had come before.

Here’s my note to my cousin:

Dear Bobbi,

I wonder if Grandma ever expected this book she gave her mom to travel this far in our family. I had a lot of fun reading the comments…and actually enjoyed the book – the last few chapters weren’t as interesting.

I turned 40 last January and was let go from a job I’d held for almost 20 years in June, so I’ve done a lot of soul-searching lately. This book has some thoughtful pieces:  

“At 40 we should no longer be making a living, but living ,” “there is an Art to living,” and we should learn to be more efficient – to spend less time doing the stuff we don’t like – to focus time on what we do like. By now (theoretically) we know what that is. We should lead a “simplified life” by cutting out the things that tax us.

I find this interesting. No longer doing office work in a “work” setting but rather taking care of our boys (they are 9, 7, 4, 2) and working on freelance writing in the evenings or while they nap, I find I am so much happier and relaxed. The years of stress have melted away. Maybe I am “finding a gentler mode of ‘making a living’” like the author suggests. I feel like I am being more gentle to myself.

In this high-powered, do-it-all, balance all the success world, I’m finding I like (most of all) to be a mom and keep a home. But I like things (mostly doing things) that cost money. Now, I’ve found a way to do both and it feels amazing.

I’m not sure, yet, if I’ve realized I’ve arrived at such a good place. Should it be harder to be this happy? Maybe 40 is the beginning.

I certainly hope it is for  you. I wish you all the blessings.

Meghan Cooley
(oldest daughter of the oldest daughter of the oldest daughter of the first recipient of this book – Margaret Weschke)

As this new year is upon us, I’m taking a deeper look at what matters most: Am I living or making a living? What things do I actually want to do? How can I do more of those? 

What about you? How will you be more gentle with yourself this year?