If you look at what people use Google to search for related to midlife, it’s almost always about crisis. People want to know what a midlife crisis looks like, and if it’s even a real thing.
The term was coined by Canadian psychoanalyst Elliott Jaques in 1965. Jaques characterized the midlife crisis as psychological distress related to growing older and facing the reality of an impending death.
The idea of the midlife crisis became mainstream thanks to a 1984 book by journalist Gail Sheehy called Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life. Like Jaques, Sheehy also thought the distress was caused by confronting our own mortality.
Research since the 1980s, however, rejects the notion that most people have a unique crisis at midlife. Sure, people go through crises like divorce or job loss in their 40s and 50s, just like they do during their 30s, 20s, or 60s.
Author Daniel Pink refutes the midlife crisis in stronger terms, while revealing the more common experience we encounter at midlife:
The midlife crisis is total bunk. But what does happen in midlife is a droop — a U-shaped curve of well-being. That pattern has been detected in more than 70 countries and even in great apes. In addition, other experimental research has shown that people often become less likely to comply with standards or act diligently in the middle of an undertaking.
The “U-shaped curve” is also known as the happiness curve, and we talk about it a lot in Further. Basically we suffer from a strange sense of midlife discontent in our 40s before hitting the upslope as we enter our 50s. No red sports car or extramarital affair required — you just work through it.
That’s not to say that some people don’t freak out a little as they realize they’re getting older. But it often has more to do with vanity than mortality. Beginning to look older impacts people in different ways, often manifesting in a fight or flight response:
That could include plastic surgery, a later-in-life pregnancy, hiring a personal trainer to get in great shape, or trying a dramatic hair color. Flight, in this case, is more akin to denial that the changes are happening, and can include reactions like withdrawing from social activities or even symptoms of depression.
More often than not, the real sense of discord comes from a lack of meaning and purpose. Midlife causes us to question both the path that we’ve followed, and the path ahead. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing — in fact, it’s an important transition from who we’ve been to who we aim to become.
So don’t call it a crisis. Think of midlife weirdness as an opportunity.
“So much has changed in our culture that the term has lost much of its meaning,” says Vivian Diller, PhD, a psychologist in New York City. “This is partly because we live so much longer. It used to be, ‘I have so little time left.’ Now it’s ‘I have so much time left. Do I want to live life this way?'”
Ah, now there’s the question at the heart of the matter. Hopefully you’re on your way to your answer.
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The Happy Battle
In the first issue of Further for 2021, I shared an article about two kinds of happiness. This week, we’ve got a completely different article that compares two kinds of happy people. It all comes down to a contrast between enjoyment and virtue, which sets up a cage match between the Greek philosophers Epicurus and Epictetus.
That Old GOAT
I’ve spent 20 years disliking Tom Brady. An underdog in the draft who becomes an exceptional player, marries a supermodel, and maintains his boyish good looks … what’s not to hate? But after Sunday night, I have to recognize he’s the greatest QB to play the game. And the age at which he earned his 7th ring should be a motivator for us all.
Down below, Trudi talks about the importance of various forms of friendship. Plus, this week’s Flashback has your number … and it’s 867-5309.
P.S. Did you know as a subscriber you’re automatically enrolled in the Further referral program, and can earn cool Further gear? It’s easy … just use these links that contain your unique referral code to share:
Why Even “Weak” Friends Help You Flourish
By Trudi Roth
Remember virtual happy hours? As soon as social distancing kicked in, 55% of Americans instinctively rushed to video chat with everyone from BFFs to work buddies and old high school, camp, and college friends.
Or maybe you’re on or interested in the invite-only audio app Clubhouse (two million members and counting). You drop into a digital room and, in real-time, strike up a conversation with people who share your interests, much like a virtual cocktail party.
All of this online activity is a reflection of one vital human truth: we need friends.
If living in lockdown for nearly a year has taken a toll on your social life, you’re not alone. Don’t wait for a vaccine to boost your health and well-being, though.
You can get by with a little help from your friends.
In the Friend Zone
Research shows strong social connections are essential to living a long, fulfilling life. A landmark Harvard study launched in 1938 that followed men for eight decades revealed the top predictor of health and happiness at 80 wasn’t professional success — it’s the level of satisfaction in your relationships at 50.
While this points specifically to long-term connections, “micro-friendships” or “weak ties” — familiar acquaintances like your favorite barista or a buddy from the gym — are also impactful. Social scientist Gillian Sandstrom call-out the necessity of social connectedness.
Peripheral connections tether us to the world at large; without them, people sink into the compounding sameness of closed networks. Regular interaction with people outside our inner circle ‘just makes us feel more like part of a community, or part of something bigger.
Regardless of the level of closeness in friendships, the bigger, scientific picture points to the significant health benefits of simply being connected. From decreasing stress, heart disease, gut problems, and immune system issues to increasing well-being and longevity, social support is shown to be mutually beneficial to the friend on both ends.
A Friend Indeed
Undoubtedly the pandemic has complicated making and maintaining friendships. Without what author and connection coach Kat Vellus calls the “seeds of connection” — physical proximity, regular interactions, and shared interests, values, and outlook — friendships can change or end.
Most experts predict the “weak ties” relationships will reemerge once we’re back out and about in the world. For long-term relationships, now’s a perfect opportunity to reassess. Perspective is a gift; plus, research shows that who you hang out with brings out the best (and worst) in you.
So take advantage of the Great Pause to reevaluate who you want to stay connected to — and who you don’t. And if you’re not sure, call someone you’re close to for advice. After all, that’s what friends are for.
The Pandemic Has Erased Entire Categories of Friendship (The Atlantic)
Tommy Tutone – 867-5309/Jenny
Tommy Tutone 2, 1981
If you’ve ever called 867-5309 and asked for Jenny, you’re not alone. The number (with various local area codes) gets pranked to this day. On the other hand, marketers and small businesses compete to snag the number, which seems like a short-sighted strategy to me. (YouTube)
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