If somebody asked you to write a list of what you had achieved during your life so far, what would it look like? When the Make a Wish Foundation UK conducted a survey of 1000 people aged 50+ it revealed a somewhat surprising set of results, which I’m about to share with you. I must say that a few of the ‘top’ goals ticked off people’s lifetime “To Do” lists took me quite by surprise, but then I strongly suspect that I may be less practically minded than the majority of the survey respondents. After all, if I was asked about the proudest achievements of my life, I’d probably put “winning a very large supply of chocolate from Cadbury’s for my essay on ‘How Chocolate is Made'” somewhere near the top.
Children – the apples of our eyes
As it happens, essay writing of any sort didn’t make it into the survey’s Top 20, in fact I don’t think it featured at all unsurprisingly; instead, the Number 1 spot went to “paying off the mortgage.” The second one was “keeping kids on the straight and narrow,” which as many of us know is no mean feat, especially when it’s closely followed by “maintaining a strong bond with your kids.” Similarly, becoming a parent figured quite highly on the list and it’s both instructive and heartening to note that our children play such an important role in our feeling of success.
In this Age of Divorce the study’s respondents listed “having a marriage that lasts more than thirty years” in fourth place. That is definitely a sign of the times. Thinking back, divorce was an event of such a rarity during my childhood that I can only recall one of my friend’s parents going through it during the entirety of my school days, from kindergarten to sixth form. I doubt the number would be so low today. Indeed, “getting married” and “staying faithful to your partner” followed closely in fifth and sixth places. I guess these reflect the values of a Baby Boomer generation that bridged the gap from our predecessors for whom an unmarried life was almost unthinkable and the generation that followed us, who had a much more ‘take it or leave’ attitude to wedded bliss. Rather romantically, “finding true love” was in the Top 10. All you romance writers out there, please take note, you’re still in demand.
It is perhaps no surprise that personal finances crop up in the list in various guises. After all, money is a major part of life and it is a fickle friend as well, so when you gain control over it, then yes, it is an achievement. Being able to support a family and supporting children through university were important to the respondents in this survey, as was being able to afford nice holidays. Equally, never having experienced unemployment is another proud achievement. It is somewhat sad to think that if our children, especially those aged 25 and under, were to be asked the same question when they reach their 50s, a significant number will feel proud to have actually been in continuous employment. We are in an era where youth unemployment is more common for many than at any other time I can remember, so if they do manage to avoid it, that will be an achievement.
Interestingly, “staying out of prison” is a respected goal and I must admit, it isn’t one that would have occurred to me, and that’s not because I’m a goody two shoes. Again, that harks back to the value of earlier generations and a widespread fear of the ultimate disgrace that a prison sentence would bring to your family. These days it seems to have less of a stigma attached and with aristocrats rubbing shoulders with arch criminals, prison has attracted a certain caché.
Being charitable and helping other people are lower down the list, which must have disappointed the Make a Wish Foundation that conducted the survey to establish attitudes to donating. Having said that, it’s an achievement of our entire generation that we consider helping other people an activity that is worth pursuing and something we can take personal pride in.
Believe it or not, keeping a clean driving licence is also in the Top 20 list, and on this personal matter, I shall count it a major achievement if I ever have a driving licence to keep clean. That will even trump the Cadbury’s chocolate. But that’s a story for another day.