Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Are You Happy?

The answer might depend on your age.  I spent about 20 minutes earlier this morning learning about the U-curve, which attempts to explain why some... most, even... people go through what's known as a midlife crisis.  The opening grafs from "The Real Roots of Midlife Crisis:"
This summer, a friend called in a state of unhappy perplexity. At age 47, after years of struggling to find security in academia, he had received tenure. Instead of feeling satisfied, however, he felt trapped. He fantasized about escape. His reaction had taken him by surprise. It made no sense. Was there something wrong with him? I gave him the best answer I know. I told him about the U-curve.

Not everyone goes through the U-curve. But many people do, and I did. In my 40s, I experienced a lot of success, objectively speaking. I was in a stable and happy relationship; I was healthy; I was financially secure, with a good career and marvelous colleagues; I published a book, wrote for top outlets, won a big journalism prize. If you had described my own career to me as someone else’s, or for that matter if you had offered it to me when I was just out of college, I would have said, “Wow, I want that!” Yet morning after morning (mornings were the worst), I would wake up feeling disappointed, my head buzzing with obsessive thoughts about my failures. I had accomplished too little professionally, had let life pass me by, needed some nameless kind of change or escape.

My dissatisfaction was whiny and irrational, as I well knew, so I kept it to myself. When I thought about it—which I did, a lot—I rejected the term midlife crisis, because I was holding a steady course and never in fact experienced a crisis: more like a constant drizzle of disappointment. What annoyed me most of all, much more than the disappointment itself, was that I felt ungrateful, the last thing in the world I was entitled to be.
Illustration from the article.

The article is relatively long but seriously interesting, none the less.  After I finished the article I sat and reflected for a while, asking myself if I went through a midlife crisis and were things better today than they were, say, ten or 20 years ago?  It's a mixed bag.  I definitely went through some difficult times following my divorce (some people would say I'm not out of those woods yet) and I experienced what author Jonathon Rauch calls a "constant drizzle of disappointment" about life in general during that time.  Yet I think I remained happy in an overall sense and went on to achieve the pinnacle of my professional career after running away from home and gallivanting all over the country for a year.  

These days, when that U-curve should be on the upswing as I approach age 70 (this coming March, if you must know), I range from ambivalent to reasonably satisfied with most things in life.  There's at least one caveat, however: I'm not a terribly introspective person.

So... midlife crisis?  Here's one answer:

Heh.  From The Shoebox blog, obviously.


  1. I've always associated 'mid-life crisis' with the disillusionment that comes with the realization that, however wonderful your life has been, there are things you want to do that you never will do (spend a week in bed with Kate Upton, say. . .), and that things you've done and choices you've made preclude you from doing other things you'd really like to do.

    Oddly enough, I had my first 'mid-life-crsis-type experience' on my 20th birthday (weird, huh?) - I was overwhelmed with the realization that there were things I wanted to do that I never would, and part of the reason was just because I wasn't good enough / disciplined enough / ambitious enough / whatever, to make them happen.

    Even so, I felt pretty good about my life as I sat on the doorstep of my 40s. Then I lost my job. But I quickly landed in a better one. But it came with an hour commute. Whatever. But in retrospect, it was more portentous than I might have thought at the time. Even at 45, things were going reasonably well - good job, wonderful marriage, etc, etc, even if things weren't quite perfect.

    But then my kids. . . holy shit, what they put us through. And here I am today, having put six kids more-or-less out into the world (with two left for me to influence to whatever degree I can), all but one having screwed up their life to one degree or another. As I approach 60 (a bit over a year from now), I am mostly coming to accept such life as I've had, realizing that my kids' woes have at least as much to do with their stupid choices as with my paternal ineptitude (but I don't let myself off the fatherly hook, either). I mean, I really did tell 'em that getting pregnant while unmarried was a bad idea. . .

    But I've still got an amazing wife, with whom I'm looking forward to growing even older than we already are. . . And I know that God is merciful. . .

    1. It sounds to me that life has been good to you, Craig, and I think you're definitely blessed with a good marriage. The love of a good woman is quite possibly the greatest source of happiness for a man, in my not-so-humble-opinion. As for your kids... they're still relatively young, no? They could very well learn from their experiences and turn things around. I hope so.

    2. Yeah, my kids are still pretty young (altho the older ones are in or near their 30s), and the eldest is definitely back on her feet, altho the plans she had at 20 are gone forever. A couple of the younger ones are showing signs of learning, as well. But a couple of 'em still make me cringe. . .

      See, the thing is, Jenn and I were both 'good kids'; we don't have any reference points for ape-shit self-destructiveness. . .

      But you're right, of course; and I think part of that upward trend as we get past our 50s is that our kids start to look like they might be OK, after all. . .

    3. I won't know the feeling. My only is eleven. I will pick her up for Christmas and then return her to Mordor. I started a lot later than you. I don't know if men divorced with custody but primary custody with the mother, want drama and sound effects. Right now, I'm all for it. Bring it On! Roll On Teenager!

      I have to admit, my career let me do every single thing I ever wanted to do in life. My sweetie wonders why I seem to be happy and not interested in the things we could do and the answer cannot be, I already did it. At this point we're talking gravy. Except for the little person.

      I dodge Sauron and the Nazgul to be with her from time to time. That's worth doing.

    4. I started a lot later than you.

      I MIGHT have ended later than you; I was 52 when my youngest came into the world. But I sure do hear ya on the "Roll on Teenager!" bits. I'm hoping and praying for a lot of that as I get older.

      My sweetie wonders why I seem to be happy and not interested in the things we could do...

      I hear that, as well. While I may not have done everything I could have done, I have more than enough tee shirts to last me the rest of my life. I'm perfectly content to sit out on the verandah and watch the river flow, as Dylan so aptly put it.

  2. It seems that we live in anticipation of what's next and are often disappointed with the offerings.
    Peggy Lee pretty much says it all in that song.
    Another short example - Boot camp was the pits, but we thought 'A' School would be better.
    It was just a different pit, but, surely, the fleet would be better?
    Nope, just different.
    Today is better because I have come to understand that all I should expect is change.

    1. Some people are fond of sayin' "change is good." Me? I'm not so sure, but one thing I DO know: change is constant, so ya might as well accept it.

    2. I won't go so far as to say change is good.
      It is what it is.

      I forgot to mention in my earlier comment that the Shoebox graphic is dead on.

  3. Yes indeedee, life is dynamic, alright, that's why life insurance was invented. Remember those old New England Life color magazine cartoons/ads?: "Why yes, New England Life is my Ins Company, why do you ask?" (as the executive sitting in the skyscraper with his back to the plate glass window says to the guy viewing the approaching wrecking ball :) )

    1. Those ads are pretty cool, Virgil. I have a VERY dim recollection of them.

  4. PS: Google it. They have some great examples, although not all-inclusive

    1. PPS: I especially liked the UFO one--I had never seen that before..

    2. I did the google thing: you're right.


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