The midlife slump

I was struck by an op-ed piece in the L.A. Times* by Jonathan Rauch, a Pulitzer Prize Winning journalist, who discovered in his 40’s that despite all of his achievements, a good life and a good marriage, he was suffering a midlife slump. His analysis of the research on the mid-life slump found that “other things being equal, people’s life satisfaction tends to decline from their early 20’s until mid-life, then turns around at about age 50.”

When I think back to my early 40’s, I was in an extended period of deep transition. First, I left my marriage at age 41. Then I sold the family business and started a new career at age 45. In hindsight, those were the right moves for me. For Rauch, he stayed in his career and his relationship, and he is glad he made that choice. What he learned was to be patient with the stage he was in.

It occurred to me as I read his article that most of us assume we have more control than we really do. We succeed, in part, because of demographics, stage of life, being born in the right country, or the right decade. Clearly, we take advantage of opportunities when we are presented with them, and that multiplies if we make generally good decisions. We deserve a large amount of the credit but not all of it.

We also need to have greater appreciation of the stage we are in life and temper our expectations accordingly. It’s not necessarily better to be younger. Rauch concluded from his research that people tend to be happier from their 50’s on. That has been my personal experience.

So, be more aware of the sea in which you swim. Pay attention to how people who are older or younger than you are experiencing life. Share your experience whether it is a midlife slump or post menopausal exuberance.


This week talk with someone you do not know well about how it feels to be with them in this moment in this decade of their life. You may gain unexpected wisdom from the exchange.


*Jonathan Rauch has written a new book titled “The Happiness Curve: Why life gets better after 50.

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