In response to my last post about Barbara Hagerty’s excellent new book Life Reimagined, one reader commented that “it’s nice to finally read something positive about midlife.” Well Hagerty has more positive things to say about midlife so I thought I would share more of them.
“this isn’t your parents’ midlife”
Starting with this quote:
“If you are middle-aged today … this isn’t your parents’ midlife. Chances are good you will live to eighty or beyond. You may have two marriages and two or more careers under your belt. You will experience better health longer, you will have more time and physical and mental acuity to compete in triathlons, learn Mandarin, write a novel, or start a nonprofit. At the same time, the world is no longer brimming with unlimited possibilities; the choices you have made until now set boundaries on your future.”
I like that quote as an excellent summation of our situation. We are fortunate to be here today. Life is generally better for most people than it is has been for previous generations and we now understand more about how to keep it so. However, we can’t luxuriate irresponsibly in the benefits of our time. It is up to us to make wise and disciplined choices to maximize our lives during the time we have left on this earth.
“For many people, it really is the best years of life”
She also quotes psychologist Margie Lachman (Development in Midlife) saying: “We talk about this low point in midlife. But I think it’s important to know that despite the demands, despite the crises that some people do experience, many people see midlife as the peak. It typically can be the peak of earnings, it can be the peak in terms of respect and being looked up to and being able to reason and solve problems. So much experience can come to bear. You’re stilll at the point where you haven’t lost your abilities and, physically, people are typically doing pretty well, too. For many people, it really is the best years of life.” How’s that for uplifting?
But that’s not all. While we worry about declining capabilities as we age – and the physical decline is undeniable: sight and hearing problems occur, the brain does start to physically shrink and it’s transmission interactions decline, and we can’t ignore those recurring aches and pains. Leonard Cohen’s memorable lines come to mind: “my friends are gone, my hair is grey, I ache in the places I used to play”.
“midlife is the best time of all for your brain”
Despite all that, neuroscientist Denise Park told Hagerty: “I think midlife is the best time of all for your brain… You’ve reached a time in life where you have both cognitive resource … sort of mental horsepower – but at the same time, you have knowledge, experience and judgement. …. there’s this wonderful blending of knowledge and cognitive resource that makes it probably the most efficient, effective time of your life.”
Now, if only all those large employers who are so anxious to dump us from their payrolls while we’re in our fifties, understood this!
Also, for many people, a certain resilience and resourcefulness has developed by midlife that enables them to suffer through life’s trials and tribulations and carry on. When Hagerty started to plan her book about midlife, she used her place on public radio to request listener’s stories about their midlife experiences. While some of the stories were heartbreaking, she found a certain buoyancy shone through many of them. “Almost everyone had lost something precious: a long marriage, a cherished career, a vitality felled by cancer or stroke. And yet most described these alloyed middle years as their golden period. ‘Life kicks the shit out of me regularly, ‘ Victoria Gallucci wrote, ‘I’m a work in progress, a beautiful mess, and even on those days when I hate my life, I love every second of it.’”
“Relationships moved into the foreground”
And it is that attitude towards life that can make the difference between a successful and less than successful midlife and beyond. Those that have that resilience also have realigned to make relationships with family and friends a more significant focus of their lives, reports Hagerty. “Relationships moved into the foreground as career and other accomplishments receded into the distance. After a loss, they allowed a respectful pause, took a compass reading, and then began the next leg of their journey … at some point, people adapt, shift their dreams, redefine success.”
“people adapt, shift their dreams, redefine success.”
And those relationships can pay them back by boosting their resilience through the tough times. In fact, strength of relationships was also shown by research to lengthen life. And this was not necessarily about marriage, “people (particularly men) who were unhappily married or divorced generally died younger than those who were never married at all.” But the key was “a person’s social network: friends at church or at work, guys getting together to play golf or women meeting in a monthly book club. It was not the quantity of social connections but the quality of those connections that added years to life.”
But that is just one part of what Hagerty describes as a big key to successfully navigating midlife and into then into old age – finding a meaningful life. A reason to get out of bed in the morning. More on that in future posts.
“This is the time to enjoy your life”
Finally, I want to leave you with one last inspiring piece from Hagerty’s book. She is having lunch with her 85+ year old, mentally alert mother and a friend. She describes to her friend, growing up with her parents: “Mom taught us integrity, and Dad taught us deferred gratification… Sometimes I wonder when it’s time to stop deferring and start gratifying.”
‘”It’s now honey!” she said. “This is the time to enjoy your life. Don’t waste another moment!”‘
Inspiring words to live by.
You can get Hagerty’s book here (or click on image below). And as always I point out that if you buy (anything) through this or other links on this site, you’ll support this site through a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks!