Did you also think of the term “midlife crisis” while filling in the blank? Well, you are part of the majority here, me included.
Wonder why there aren’t phrases like “midlife joy”, “midlife bliss”, or “midlife success” in popular use? Where did “midlife” get its notoriety and infamy from? Curious topic indeed to get some insights.
Let’s get started with “midlife”.
Did an elementary math for “midlife” and it pointed towards the age group of 40 to 50 years, having assumed that the average human life span has now improved to a healthy 80+ years. For the purpose of this article, if we were to look at a typical profile of an urban, educated & employed professional in the similar age bracket, one can fairly assume that he/she would be reaping the benefits of 20+ years of work experience with a proportionate paycheck with which he/she would be providing for the security, upkeep and well being of the loving family. Add to the equation – bright colleagues, awards and recognitions, supportive friends, engaging hobbies, international vacations and a vibrant ecosystem. Throw in the routine house, car and a dog in the backdrop of a family “selfie” – and a picture-perfect image emerges! If you had described this to any fresh graduate, coming out of college, he would have said, “Wow, that’s what I want!”
So let me ask you – where is the crisis in this? Have people lost their objectivity and become whiny and irrational? Instead of being grateful, are they wanting to soak themselves in a constant drizzle of disappointment?
Poking around on this topic led me to the fact that Midlife Crisis was first coined by Elliott Jaques in a paper, published by “The International Journal of Psycho-Analysis” in 1965. Elliott Jaques distinguished the mid-life crisis as a phase in human development based on the peculiarity of change points, or periods of evolution beginning in the forties until the late fifties. Noted that irrespective of financial, marital status, health condition, or family structure the feelings of dissatisfaction, depression, and discontentment doesn’t alleviate.
While we looked at the brighter side of midlife earlier, what is on the other side of the coin?
First, when we consciously and mentally mark that time period as a midpoint, it’s a significant and sudden realization of our mortality. A stark recognition that comes along with the transition. Also, conditioned by the archetypal professional environment that constantly judges everyone by the “half-empty glass” syndrome, we start to experience conflicts or dissatisfaction within ourselves because of unrealized goals, negative self-perceptions based on unnecessary assessments and scoring with peer group or the first signs of noticeable physical changes as a result of aging or health issues. Adding to the “stressors” could be alleged variations ( or lack of) in spousal relationships, children leaving home and the resultant “empty nest” feeling, potentially hitting a glass ceiling at work and last but not the least aging and ailing or (god forbid) death of parents or loved ones.
And the ticking of that monstrous clock appears faster and the sounds perceptibly louder.
How does a typical adult deal with this ostensible situation and what are the common behaviors, considered as popular reactions, to the experience of “being in a midlife crisis”? Widespread views on this subject mention:
- having amplified feelings of remorse for one’s wrongs or lost opportunities in the past.
- spike in antidepressant usage, alcohol or in extreme cases drug abuse
- urge to acquire unusual or expensive items such as motorbikes, luxury cars, gadgets, and in some cultures tattoos, piercings, etc.
- heightened awareness of sexuality
- paying unusual attention to grooming, altering physical appearance such as covering baldness, wearing youthful designer clothes, accessories etc.
- seeking and entering into relationships with younger people
- whimsical need to indulge in “extremes sports”
- and in some cases – seeking a spiritual guru and following a clique
Call some of these as “compensations” for the feeling of depravity and the others being characterized as “crutches” to cope with the crisis feeling – the feeling though irrational but very real and thriving on a daily basis.
But there is good news. It’s called the “U-Turn” of happiness!
In a 2011 study, a Stanford University psychologist Laura Carstensen and her colleagues studied this phenomenon and noted that the happiness takes eventually a U-Turn for the good, with progression of time. What are the other factors that contribute to the U-Turn?
Awareness is key. To start with.
When people take cognizance of the fact that they are going through an inevitable & evolutionary transition and take control to consciously push themselves into a zone of recalibration, where they begin to evaluate their life less in terms of social competition and more in terms of social connectedness, the sinking pattern of happiness takes a “U-Turn”, swings back to normalcy and even gains a new equilibrium. Also, with the awareness of time horizons of life growing shorter, people tend to invest in what is most important, typically meaningful relationships, and derive increasingly greater satisfaction from these investments. When future become less distant & more constrained, people tend to stay in the present – and that is great for emotional health and experience.
Bottom line being – if you think you’re at the midpoint, you can help the situation with increased awareness and treat this as a transitional phase, recalibrate your thoughts and take appropriate actions to make this a time of personal growth and make the experience beneficial and rewarding for both you and your ecosystem.
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