Alison Deutsch Coaching Reimagine Midlife. Take the Next Step.
In June I gave a talk on the newly released book The Happiness Curve: Why Life Gets Better After 50 by Jonathan Rauch. Following on the heels of two high profile celebrity suicides, the talk felt more poignant.
I shared the latest research from the fields of psychology, economics, and neuroscience that indicates happiness, when normalized for situational factors such as health, income and career fulfillment, follows a U-shape curve. The big Aha! - aging itself affects our life satisfaction.
In other words, even when our lives are objectively great, feelings of disappointment, malaise, and discomfort in midlife are perfectly normal.
The primary cause of our malaise is the gap between how satisfied we actually feel versus how satisfied we believe we should feel. Rauch explains that the dip in our life satisfaction occurs when the hard work of realigning our happiness expectations is being done. Until this readjustment happens, we get hit from two directions at once - feeling both disappointment about our past and pessimistic about the future; a recipe for misery.
Interestingly, apes suffer the same dip in fulfillment through their life span and humans are one of only three known species where females long outlive their fertility years. Combined, these factors have led scientists to theorize there is a biological component hardwired in our DNA that serves a broader evolutionary purpose. Rausch writes: “The curve seems to be imprinted on our biology to repurpose us for a changing role in society as we age – a role that is less about ambition and competition and more about connection and compassion. It’s a time when we stop focusing on acquiring – family, home, career, and financial assets and start to invest outward into the next generation, the community or a cause.”
Whether we experience an existential crisis at the bottom of the happiness curve or make the turn gradually, we are led to the same direction: toward others and toward wisdom.
The “grandmother wisdom hypothesis” goes like this: since society as a whole benefit when elders promote the common good above self-interest, the restlessness, stress, and disappointment felt through midlife are growing pains intended to serve as a signal it’s time to reflect, reassess, and recalibrate. The underlying purpose of the discomfort is to motivate us to gain a deeper understanding of ourselves, become less judgmental, develop patience and ultimately realign our lives with our values - to live more wisely.
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Alison Deutsch Coaching
Understanding that our underlying malaise is a perfectly normal life stage that serves a broader purpose is helpful, but it also got me wondering: Pain in midlife might be inevitable, but must we suffer through it; how can we navigate the trough with more joy and ease?
One way is to accelerate the acquisition of wisdom. It is not enough to intellectually study, we must also do things differently to experience transformation. The benefits are well worth the effort, with applied wisdom we can experience more balance and equanimity; more contentedness and less regret; and more comfort with inner and outer ambivalence and conflict.
The main take-away from the book is this - being satisfied in midlife is possible, it’s just harder. If we don’t have our values front and center we can stay stuck in the U.
One of Rauch’s suggestion to help travel through the U faster and even change the shape of the U is to work with a coach, because he writes, “the primary goal of coaching is to help clients clarify their values and align their life with them.”
Navigating the happiness curve does not have to be a do-it-yourself project where we all have to start from scratch. We can seek support to help us navigate the dip with more joy and ease and come out on the other side with the clarity, confidence, and peace of mind that comes with knowing we can handle anything that comes our way.
Midlife pain might be inevitable. The suffering, however, is optional.
Midlife malaise is a signal to pause and realign our lives with our values
Here's an exercise to put in your wisdom tool kit and get you started on the path towards greater self-knowledge.
It’s an exercise created with my colleague Wendy Van Besien to help you reconnect to your deepest values so you can use them as guideposts in your life.
Based on her unique life experiences, and certifications in the science of positive psychology and the art of life coaching, Alison offers practical wisdom that helps women navigate midlife transitions with clarity and confidence. www.alisondeutsch.com