Mid-life crisis

August 17, 2007

Although I’m probably not actually middle-aged (despite being approximately half way to the average life expectancy of a British male), the concept of a mid-life crisis is something I’m very much starting to relate to. I spend most of my time either angry or depressed, or if neither of those things, simply frustrated (with my lack of a sense of purpose, with my “career”, with my haphazard social skills, with my bloody computer, with my girlfriend’s bloody computer, with my bloody wireless network, with my knee that doesn’t work properly, with my broken toilet, with my leaking window, with my cake that didn’t rise properly, and with the slight matter of a slow environmental apocalypse being perpetuated by greed, laziness, willful ignorance and stupidity, etc).

It feels like life does indeed ends (as Charlotte Gainsbourg quotes in a song on her new album) at 17 (though she disagrees with it, saying she’s “content”. What’s that?). It ends, and you get spots and confusion and angst and depression instead. I always thought all that horrible teenage stuff would go away, but it doesn’t, it’s just adult life. And it just segues into this mid-life crisis, or proto mid-life crisis.

Still, I’m not alone by any stretch of the imagination. This piece by Stuart Jeffries appeared in the Guardian on 16 Aug:

“Men should beware of the misery years

Are you 35-44, male, balding, paunchy, no longer a tiger in the sack, juggling family and job? The kind of person who fundamentally has nothing to look forward to but retirement and (fingers crossed) a painless death? Well, stop whining. Things will improve, according to a new government survey.

Even though the Defra research found that middle-aged men had the lowest satisfaction rate (6.8 out of 10), it also reports that the figure rises to 7.8 later in life.

This confirms a recent paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research, Is Well- Being U-Shaped Over the Life Cycle?, which suggests that if you plotted happiness over a lifecycle on a graph, it would look like a smile. Lovely.

Why are old men likely to be less grumpy than mid-life ones? The earlier study cites three reasons. First, older men “quell the infeasible aspirations of their youth” (ie you get used to how rubbish you are). Second (I love this) miserable people die earlier. Third, as you age, your friends die and you value your blessings. On the other hand, I suppose, you might be more miserable when friends die, and decide to put an end to it all. The fact that you’re not around would improve happiness levels, too.

Speaking as a 45-year-old man, I find reading about other people’s misery helps me out of my mid-life satisfaction trough. I love, for example, this exchange from G2’s Notes and Queries in 2003:

Q: A television programme recently stated that men between the ages of 35 and 55 were the grumpiest creatures on the planet. So what do we have to look forward to that will mysteriously cheer us all up when we hit 56?
A: Bugger all.
Nick Gregory (aged 56½)

Hilarious! What makes me miserable is dismal researchers showing how grumpy I am. Surely the rise in such research is causally linked to increases in misery? If only Defra would commission research to test this.

To counter the glum trend in surveys, I’m doing research to find if happiness rises if a 45-year-old man bunks off work for an afternoon on a bouncy castle. I expect it will.”

But hey, to end on a positive note – I’m not balding (yet)! My hair is thick as ever and I actually quite like the spreading grey.

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One Response to “Mid-life crisis”

  1. krissnp Says:

    This article is a help for people facing similar situation.


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