How to work through a mid-life crisis and get back on the 'Happiness Curve'

Author of The Happiness Curve: Why Life Gets Better After Midlife, Jonathan Rauch, explains why we feel discontent once we hit middle age and how to beat those feelings when they creep in.

Feeling restless, unsatisfied or bored with your life in your forties and fifties is commonly described as a midlife crisis. Whether you have a burning desire to buy a red sports car or shake up your groundhog routine, these feelings are completely normal. Here’s how to manage the mid-life malaise and get yourself back on the 'Happiness Curve'…

Success and satisfaction

As you age, life gets busier, ambitions change and so do priorities. It doesn’t matter if you’re successful or not, feelings of discontent can still set in and leave you feeling down. After forging a highly-successful career as a journalist, Jonathan was left feeling depressed, ungrateful and frustrated. “I achieved everything I wanted to in my 40s and more, but I couldn’t shake this feeling of pervasive malaise. I felt trapped,” he says. After much research, he discovered the 'Happiness Curve', the idea that the ageing process has its own effects on life satisfaction, with a long, slow dip in our 40s and 50s, before returning to high levels again in our 60s. “I found that it’s harder to feel grateful later in life, no matter how successful you are,” says Jonathan.

Crisis talks

While most people are familiar with the stereotype of a midlife crisis, Jonathan believes the 'Happiness Curve' is something very different. “This is a natural transition, not a crisis. This downward curve is a healthy and normal change in values,” he explains. “Later in life, we focus on different things. We want less ambition and more connection.” While a midlife crisis can seem sudden and disruptive, this curve is a long, slow decline in life satisfaction that you may not notice right away.

Am I on the downward spiral?

While everyone’s experiences are different, this long, slow grind may be difficult to pinpoint and hard to come to terms with – especially if you’re guilty about feeling ungrateful. If you find yourself comparing your life with that of your peers, it could be a sign that you’re experiencing some mid-life dissatisfaction. “We thought that social media would be a platform for a communication, but it is in fact, a platform for display,” says Jonathan. It can be intimidating scrolling through a Facebook feed and seeing your friends with new cars, great holidays, perfect grandkids and the like – but it's worth remembering that social media is a highlight reel and not indicative of real life. “Now it’s so easy to compare ourselves with others – and that’s a great way to become unhappy,” says Jonathan.

Beating the curve

If you find yourself feeling down or dissatisfied, Jonathan suggests trying the following:

  • Be patient with yourself and avoid doing irrational things. “There’s a payoff,” he says, “The emotional peak of life is in our 60s and 70s. What you’re going through is completely normal.”
  • Reach out to those around you. “There’s a lot of stigma and shame associated with feeling like this,” explains Jonathan, “Find trusted people to talk to about how you’re feeling. Isolation makes it worse.”
  • Stay in the present and try to calm yourself down when you’re feeling particularly frustrated with life. “Meditation can really help,” suggests Jonathan.
  • Steer clear of pressure. If you haven’t achieved everything you want to yet – don’t worry. “The most rewarding part of life comes after 50. These days we live longer, so there’s more time to enjoy life,” says Jonathan.

    Jonathan Rauch is the author of The Happiness Curve: Why Life Gets Better After Midlife, $29.99, Bloomsbury.

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