My eldest dropped a truth bomb on me the other day. She asked, “Mommy, do you love me?” I laughed and responded, “Of course, silly! What made you ask?”
Her response:”Mommy, sometimes you’re just so mad. You look unhappy and I want you to be happy.”
After lots of reassuring hugs and snuggles, I again told her how much I love her and that sometimes when adults are really busy or anxious or tired, they lose their tempers or sometimes even have tantrums. Just like kids.
But it has been haunting me.
I admit, I feel like life is permanently set to “spin cycle” mode and it is making me nauseous.
And it’s not just the business of balancing career and family. Nor the relentless “to do” list reminding me to clean, cook, schedule play dates, order paper towel and cat food, buy new shoes for kids, etc. Nor the pressure to keep up with the other successful, powerful women (and men) in my neighborhood who run marathons by training at 3:30am and whose children are all future Rhodes Scholars.
Well, it’s all of those things.
It’s also just…I don’t know. I have everything I ever dreamed I would have at this point in my life, and then some. But somehow I still sometimes feel kind of bummed out.
Turns out, I’m not alone. All of us middle-aged people are less happy than our kids or our grandparents.
Apparently, there is a U-curve of happiness and I’m right down in the dip.
David Blanchflower and Andrew Oswald, co-authors of “International Happiness,” surveyed over a half-million people in the U.S. and Europe, and found that life satisfaction bottoms out at mid-life and then starts to rise around age 50 and continues to rise the older a person is. So my almost 103-year old Grandma is probably in straight up bliss mode.
Jonathan Rauch, author of The Happiness Curve: Why Life Gets Better After 50, writes, “First, the midlife malaise can be and often is about, literally, nothing. It can be a self-propelled negative emotional cycle that takes on a life of its own. In fact, successful and stable people are especially vulnerable to this weird and perverse midlife cycle.
But I teach and coach others about the power of positivity! It’s one of my core values. It’s #1 on my StrengthsFinder results! I was the freaking President of the Optimist Club in 7th grade! So now I’m also feeling guilty and hypocritical, on top of being dissatisfied. Great.
Anyone else feeling this? Shout out to the other malcontent mid-lifers!!
So now what? There’s no easy fix (Well, I guess the creators of Prozac would argue with me there…). So my goal is to try to push the U-curve up to a higher level of happiness, even if it’s still in the dip. That way, there’s no where to go but up.
How can we do this?
- Free ourselves of comparisons and love who we are. My life is amazing. I own my business, I’m a fun mommy, and I have an amazing partner, friends and family. I am physically and mentally fit. I do work that makes a positive change in people’s lives and contributes to the health of our society. I smile and I make other people smile.
- Evict shame and “smallness” from our daily mental diet. I spend a lot of time feeling anxious because I’m not doing enough. I worry about making mistakes. I hold grudges because I’m not sure what to do with the anger and dissatisfaction I’m carrying. So every morning I have to be conscious and intentional about showing compassion to myself and others.
- Try something new and intriguing. Ok, let’s no get caught in the stereotype of the “mid-life crisis.” I’m not encouraging you to leave your family and run off to Italy with a new trophy spouse and a motorcycle. But now is a time of our lives where every spare moment is eaten up by others who we serve (spouses, children, parents, bosses, schools, etc). Demand time to celebrate YOU. I just finally signed up for dance class after saying I should do it for the last 6 years. I’m going on a girls’ trip to Mexican wine country with a couple of my besties. I am strongly considering trapeze lessons (hit me up if you’re interested in joining).
The dip is real. And it kind of stinks. But I want my girls to have joyous memories of their mother, not painful ones of me harping on them to clean their closets (which by the way are a DISASTER but I’m not going to be dragged down into that hole). So I will press on, working every day to raise that U-curve up a few degrees until I hit 50 and my body sags and my memory starts fading but the world all of a sudden looks a bit shinier.
*UPDATE: Upon gentle feedback from some of my over-50 friends, let me refine my above comments. I don’t think your bodies are saggy or your minds are going. In my attempts to be cheeky I realized I was playing directly into the stereotypes we all have about aging…that’s an entirely different blog post to be written!