As a happily married mum of two, with a writing career I can fit around my family life, it seemed incredibly ungrateful to even admit that I was gripped by a daily feeling of dissatisfaction, despite seemingly having everything I’d ever wanted. I didn’t realise the feelings I was having were the typical symptoms of a midlife crisis until I started googling.
But one thing that made me keen to delve further was the fact that I wasn’t alone; it turned out that many of my friends (all of whom have what I consider to be interesting and fulfilling lives) were feeling the same. We were living charmed existences from the outside, but something was missing, and we didn’t know what to do about it.
Should we move to the country? Pack in our jobs? Retrain as teachers? Why did everything that had once seemed the ultimate goal, suddenly seem to be lacking something?
Then I came across Barbara Bradley Haggerty, and her book, ‘Life Reimagined’. My feeling that I was not alone became fact. Midlife angst, dissatisfaction, a feeling of things not being quite as satisfying as they were in the past is almost the norm. Barbara found herself in a similar position a few years ago, and set about trying to discover all she could about the midlife crisis, and how best to survive it without going mad, or making drastic, and ultimately terrible, mistakes. (Extra-marital affairs, heavy drinking and compulsive over-spending are just some of the ways in which people try to ‘feel more alive’ when they’re slap bang in the middle of a midlife crisis, often in a misguided attempt to recapture the carefree days of youth).
The upshot of Haggerty’s research was a comfort for anyone stuck in that twitchy midlife phase: In most cases, the antsy frustrations you’re feeling are not the symptoms of a full-on existential midlife crisis. Very few people actually suffer so badly. A large number, however, will find a pause, a shifting of gears in their 40s or 50s. But Barbara assures us that this shift “can be exhilarating, rather than terrifying,” so long as you know how to handle it!
In the course of her research, Barbara spoke to over 700 midlifers, and discovered both from them, and from a wealth of scientific studies, that while there is an almost inevitable dip in happiness when you hit your 40s or 50s (our lifetime happiness graph forms the shape of an inverse bell curve, with your 40s and 50s a the bottom of the U), it’s temporary, and can be put to great use.
With a shift in thinking, successful midlifers can actually use this uncomfortable itch to make a few gentle changes – both in behaviour and perceptions, and ensure these middle years are not only enjoyable, but actually become a fabulous rebirth.
Here are Barbara’s steps to becoming a happy midlifer.
It’s easy to be on autopilot – whether it’s parenting autopilot (the routines, the washing, the cooking, the housework) or work autopilot (you’ve been doing this quite a long time) an absence of personal goals and the accompanying boost that achieving those goals gives, is a huge cause of dissatisfaction. All through school, University, the start of your working life, you were striving for the top and challenging yourself. Just because you’ve made it to your destination or are more focussed helping little people achieve their goals, doesn’t mean you should stop setting new ones for yourself. Step outside your comfort zone. Learn new skills. Inspire your kids and lead by example. Whether it’s joining a gym, doing a couch to 5K or learning a language, dare to to do it!
When you were younger, happiness was often the end goal, and making serious decisions were often as simple as, ‘What shall I do this weekend?’. The plans made focussed on instant gratification. A feeling of happiness which was swift to achieve if you saw the right friends, bought the right outfit, or went to the right destination. These days instant gratification might be harder to achieve – so you need to shift your thinking. Your goals are long-term now: you are raising amazing children, building a career, being a great wife or taking great care of your long-term health. These things might not make you constantly happy in the short-term (changing nappies/ taming homework tantrums/being a rock for your partner or relentlessly plugging away in the office are not things we’d all pick to do on a Saturday afternoon), but they all serve a great purpose. And you need to appreciate the bigger picture.
You have a choice. You can see the young people coming up behind you at work, with the energy and enthusiasm you used to have, and feel threatened. Or you can see them as an opportunity to inspire and share your experience. People who see their experience as a bonus – something to share and help others learn from, are far more likely to feel good about themselves as they get older. Likewise watching your children grow older, look better than you and take off on adventures you wish you could go on, can be viewed in two ways: either a depressing reminder of how uneventful your life is now, or an opportunity to embark on adventures of your own again now. It’s never too late to learn to see the glass half full.
Did you enjoy this? Here’s how one woman healed her broken heart, here’s how another lady drew her way out of depression. Perhaps you’d be interested in how Miranda Kerr recovered following her divorce or why Emma Forbes says that she feels better at 52 than she did twenty years ago, and are YOU getting your five portions of joy a day?