Have you heard about the “Happiness U-Curve”? This term helps to describe the dip in life satisfaction experienced at middle age followed by recovery and increased life satisfaction as we grow older. This perplexing phenomenon is also known as the paradox of aging.
The term is also applicable to work and career satisfaction especially if our sense of purpose and happiness is linked with our work or professional status. In the 21st Century, this age-related curve in work and career satisfaction is part of a much broader phenomenon – our overall well-being.
A similar midlife low point is detectable in our overall well-being and has been found in 72 developed and developing nations. A summary of one set of research data showed that a typical individual’s happiness reaches its lowest point in middle age – on both sides of the Atlantic and for both men and women1. Other research over a longer life span argues that using this data as evidence of midlife crisis is not accurate2.
The U-curve tells a tale of what many researchers believe happens in midlife and midcareer. Rather than a story of chaos or negative disruption, the U-curve describes a natural purpose-driven disruption and transition to a new equilibrium and equanimity.
Wisdom and Emotional Intelligence – The Other Side of Midlife
Understanding the U-curve allows us to recognize and accept the paradox that midlife is challenging, yet ultimately gratifying. Fortunately, most of us avoid upending our lives at the first signs of midlife dissatisfaction. We can be proactive in moving up the other side of the curve. We can tap into our wisdom and focus on developing emotional intelligence skills in specific areas:
Self-Perception: Working on our self-regard and self-actualization is particularly helpful in resisting the negative self-talk and harsh judgement about feeling disappointed.
Decision Making: Working on impulse control, reality testing, and problem solving is helpful in avoiding midlife relationship breakups and career catastrophes.
Interpersonal: Working on interpersonal relationships, empathy, and social responsibility can have a profound effect on creating and maintaining mutually satisfying relationships.
The Role of Work
Work carries a large, invisible burden: the presumption and expectation that our work will provide our lives with meaning and energize our spirits. On the contrary, by midlife, we might find our work to be less fulfilling and more draining.
Many of us still prefer security over meaning and self-actualization. I question our perception of “security” – especially post pandemic? Often our obsession with security holds us back from enjoying the full spectrum of life. Interestingly, all aspects of “traditional” work are going through major disruption and transition – in our lifetime!
Throughout the midlife phase, most of us feel the need to rethink our priorities but procrastinate and succumb to fear. Somehow, fear is more comfortable than the risk associated with disruptive action even when it is purpose driven. We might view change in this phase of our life and/or career as threatening. We don’t want to risk losing our hard-earned stability (aka security). We might also feel emotionally overwhelmed which affects our capacity and capability for effective problem solving and decision making.
Find a Role Model – A Champion
Finding a role model for reassessing work and life in this midlife phase is a gift – a rare gift – that is worth the effort of the search. It’s like searching for and finding a mentor. Often there is someone in your network who has made a personal choice to let go of the pressures and stress associated with an unfulfilling career and lifestyle. They can inspire you. They can be your champion. And, they can be younger or older than you.
I have such a friend who reassessed her work and life at midlife (mid 50s) and developed a plan for purpose-driven disruption to improve her overall well-being:
- resign from a senior-level position that was mentally, emotionally, and spiritually draining;
- sell her executive home that required physical, time, and financial resources to maintain;
- move to a coastal part of Canada to enjoy a lifestyle that integrated fulfilling work and a healthy lifestyle.
Purpose-driven disruption followed by elegant execution of her plan provided opportunities to design the life she always wanted. Self-confidence, self-trust, and courage fueled her next purpose-driven disruption to relocate across the Atlantic – during the pandemic.
What about you? Do you need a role model or a champion? Are you a role model? Please do share your story here at Amintro. Your story will add to the growing optimistic approach to disruption, transition, and being awesome at any age.
- Is well-being U-shaped over the life cycle? (April 2008), Social Science & Medicine
- The U Shape of Happiness Across the Life Course: Expanding the Discussion (May 2020), Perspectives on Psychological Science
Written by Patricia A. Muir, Maestro Quality Inc., THRIVE
Patricia’s signature program “THRIVE After 60” validates women’s choices and amplifies their voices as they remain professionally active after 60 and beyond. Visit her website at https://www.patriciamuir.com/
“Written by Patricia A. Muir, PCC. In my role as principal consultant and coach at Maestro Quality Inc. and founder of THRIVE Coaching Programs, I have worked with women entrepreneurs, executives, and highly skilled professionals who continue to enjoy their work after 60.”