I just finished watching the documentary 49 Up.
There’s something quite moving in watching people mature from 7 to 49 in a matter of minutes and to see the change in their ideals, dreams, and their lives. It was fascinating watching these individuals age and see how their lives took shape.
It’s equally fascinating as you start to reflect on where you’ve been and where you shall be in more years.
If there’s one thing I’ve taken from the movie, is the importance of being happy in your circumstances and making the best of your lot in life. Dreams come and go, as do opportunities. Mistakes are made and there trying times are a certainty, but in the end, it’s important to realize the brevity of your existence. It is easy to blame circumstance and others for one’s misfortune and hardships, but ultimately, the life is your own and you must do with it what you will.
The Dalai Lama writes in The Meaning of Life:
Shantideva reasons that if something can be done to fix a situation, there is no need to worry. Whereas on the other hand, if there is nothing that can be done, there is no use in worrying.
If there is one person in the series that embodied this the most, I think it would have to be Neil, who, for a good part of his adult life, seemed to wander aimlessly.
Neil turned out to be one of the most interesting of the entire group. At seven he was funny, full of life and hope. At 14 he was doing well in comprehensive school but was more serious and subdued. In one of the biggest shocks of the series however, by the time of 21 Up he was homeless in London, having dropped out of Aberdeen University after one term, and was living in a squat and finding work as he could on building sites.
At 35 amazingly, he had turned his life around to a great degree and found his calling in politics.
For some of the kids, like Andrew, life turned out exaclty as scripted (either by themselves or by their parents). For others, it is a meandering journey where childhood dreams are often crushed by the realities of the world. The key, I think, is to be able to accept these defeats, take a lesson from them, and to see the opportunities ahead instead of the failures in the past.
The thread that struck me the most about the lives of each of the individuals in the documentary is the common importance of family and how it is a driving force in finding that peace. Of the subjects, only Neil did not marry or have children; at 49, this lack of a family of his own and the troubled relationship with his parents, was perhaps one of his own greatest regrets in his life.
In reflecting on my own thoughts on this subject, I find that today, I’m much less enthused about the idea of being a father then I was when I was a teenager. Not because I don’t like kids or that I don’t want the experience of being a father – one day – but it just feels like I’m still a bit too selfish to my own needs to be a father. I like living my life on my schedule.
49 Up is an excellent documentary that I think all young adults should watch and study. I think it reveals a lot about how fleeting one’s perception of the world is and how it evolves over time. It gives insight into what it really means to find happiness and to find purpose in life.