5 ways to deal with the midlife slump in happiness
I always thought that I would age gracefully, embracing the changes with poise, feeling content with where I was at, breezing easily into the next stage of my life. But the truth is, it’s not that easy. Some days my hormones seem to be in control and I feel powerless to stop them. I sit at my desk crying for no real reason, with my knees aching (no one tells you that arthralgia can be a symptom of menopause), and feeling so incredibly down, even though my life is good. Logically I know things are not bad and I’m not depressed, but I just don’t feel like myself and I can’t seem to shake it. I know I should go to barre class and meet my friends for coffee (I know these things will make me feel better), but I don’t seem to have the will to do any of it. Life just feels blah and it's not what I imagined it would be when I was younger.
Where does this leave me in my happiness journey? What happens to happiness as we age? Apparently, there is a dip in happiness as we reach midlife according to Jonathan Rauch in his book The Happiness Curve. This is a normal part of human development and may even be a precursor to later life satisfaction. Rauch writes that happiness decreases gradually throughout early adulthood to reach its lowest point in our mid 40s to early 50s. This tends to happen irrespective of our circumstances.
Researchers are not sure why it happens but they suspect that it might have something to do with the fact that we tend to make overly optimistic predictions about how our life will be in the future. When the future arrives life just isn’t as good. It is the mismatch between our predictions and reality that cause unhappiness. Well that makes some sense – my life isn’t where I hoped it would be (but I am certain hormones also have something to do with it).
In any case, we can all take heart because, if we can weather the midlife slump, our happiness levels will increase as we get older – stress tends to decline, emotional regulation improves, and older people have fewer regrets and are less prone to depression.
Surviving the midlife slump
So, what can we do to weather the midlife slump?
- Normalise it. It helps to understand that this is something that almost all of us experience. Knowing that I am not the only one allows me to be kinder and more compassionate with myself when I just feel down for no apparent reason.
- Stop comparison. When we feel that our life is falling short of where we want to be, we often make things worse by comparing ourselves to others. This only leads to additional suffering. I have adopted the mantra: “I am enough” to help me accept where I am at the moment.
- Have a list of activities. I have found that when I'm most down, it's hard for me to think of what I might do to shift the feeling. So, I made myself a list of things to do in these moments. It includes: exercise, make a healthy meal, meditate, do yoga, paint, draw, or do something else creative that fosters a sense of achievement, connect with family and friends, read a novel, and watch a comedy.
- Create a Flourish Journal. A Flourish Journal is a documentation of your happiness journey. It contains reminders of your good fortune; your most happy memories; things you love; quotes you find inspiring; activities that will bring you joy, excitement, awe or amusement; your hopes, dreams and goals; and anything else that is part of your happiness story. My Flourish Journal is filled with beauty and a place where I can find inspiration or just be reminded of all the good that is in my life. Both creating and re-reading my Flourish Journal can elevate my mood.
- Don’t make big changes. When we hit the midlife slump, we can feel like life needs a big shake up. But making major changes when we're feeling down is generally not a good idea. Instead make small changes that are aligned with your skills and experiences. Create some goals and work steadily towards them – it is the journey that will bring you happiness. Instead of leaving your job and partner and moving to a tropical island, consider re-energising your marriage, taking up a new hobby with a friend, or taking on new exciting responsibilities at work.
Probably the most important thing it to remember that this is a slump that will pass. So, I tell myself to be patient. I choose an activity from my list or I flick through my Flourish Journal. I make a conscious effort to weather this emotional storm knowing that there is more calm and happiness to come.
If you want to find out more about creating a Flourish Journal, you may like the following blog posts:Back