At Midlife, Why I Would Never Want to be 30 Again

Lisa writes: Being over 50 is not a moral failing. Hitting life’s halfway point is certainly not something to be ashamed of or to try and keep hidden. Yet in looking at media aimed at the boomer demographic, it would not be hard to conclude that the post-50 years were one long desperate attempt to recapture the better days of youth, as if we had carelessly left them behind.

Mary Dell and Lisa, Grown and Flown

It turns out that for most of us, those pre-50 days were not better, by almost any measure, and advertisers should probably rewrite their copy to read, “30 is the new 50.”

There is an apologetic quality, an almost defensive posture, to much of what is written about midlife. Yet it is misplaced because research confirms that the decline in our overall happiness, that begins at age 18 and continues steadily downhill, reverses course as we enter our sixth decade. In every country, every income group, whether employed or not, a parent or not, the downward drift in our happiness level reverses course as we approach our 50th birthdays.

We need to stop worrying about the second half of life as if it is a problem because the real problem is what went before. Let’s start by getting rid of a few myths by reaching back 20 or 30 years and looking at what life was really like.

I will concede that we looked better 20 years ago, but really, that is all I am going to concede.

So instead of looking in the mirror, let’s look at the research:

Money

Either because we were just beginning a career or we were overwhelmed with the cost of a young family, we had less money.  Even after the kids left, many of us paid tuitions and offered loans to get our kids on their feet. The post-50 years may be the first time that the kids are off the family payroll and it shows up in the wealth gap between younger and older Americans, which has never been greater. The net worth of the average U.S. household headed by someone 65 or older is an astounding 47 times greater than a household headed by someone under 35. While more money may not equal happiness and we may all have hazy memories of being young, poor and happy together, the lack of financial resources once kids are born can be a source of real stress and dismay.

Time

There is nothing that drains every hour of the day like small children. Whether working full-time or as a stay-at-home parent, the demands from small children know no bounds. For a trip down memory lane, read any parenting site for tales of parents desperate for sleep.

The story is the same in the workplace; as we get older, we work fewer hours, have more control over the time we spend at work and are in more senior positions.

Technology

Technology has made all of our lives better, more interesting and expansive. I was in a Starbucks yesterday listening to two guys complain about the speed of their Internet connection, which one’s iPad still had a signal during the recent hurricane, and which new phones they were going to buy. Both men looked like they were going on 80. Technology is the great equalizer. Keeping in touch with a lifetime of friends through the channels technology affords expands our world and enriches our lives.

Calories

We cannot eat like we used to, but the truth is we never really could. Let’s be honest, the days when we could eat anything we wanted ended long before 30. A body impervious to caloric intake is a gift the heavens lavishes on those who wear braces and are still growing taller.

Confidence

We may have looked more confident at 25 or 30, with the gloss of sex appeal that nature bestows on the young, but we weren’t. Like our youthful beauty, the confidence was just a veneer. Research shows that we are more content in late middle age in part because many of the anxieties and insecurities of our youth have been laid to rest. It is easy to forget how bad it felt when we worried more, were angrier and had less control over our emotions.

Happiness

Duke researchers studied over 350,000 adults aged 18 to 85 and found that 70-year-olds were happier than 30-year-olds. It appears that 46 is the inflection point  in our sense of well-being (WB) and that, on average, we get less happy as we approach that age and increasingly happy after it. The Economist magazine points out that, “Although as people move towards old age they lose things they treasure — vitality, mental sharpness and looks — they also gain what people spend their lives pursuing: happiness.” And I, for one, think that is a pretty good trade.

well being chart, happiness graph, midlife happiness

Love

By midlife, many of us have known the profound joy of loving someone deeply over decades. And while our early reckless days of romance are drenched in nostalgia, wasn’t it all one long search for someone with whom to share our lives? We have born children and bourne losses. We may miss parents who are not longer with us, or siblings or friends, but some of those we have loved most in this world, namely our children, did not exist in our youth. The love of a parent can be one of life’s most beautiful experiences, and I would not want to travel back to a time before my children existed.

In addition to time, money, confidence and our partners/spouses and kids, what else have we gained on our travels? Education, experience and, dare I say, wisdom. While tight abs may seem like a lofty goal, I am not sure I would swap them for these big three.

Perhaps I was a bit too quick to dismiss all of the advantages of youth. If there is one thing we lose, the thing I feel the loss of most acutely, it is that sense of infinite possibility. It is hard not to feel a longing for the days when all of life lay before us and anything seemed possible. So much can and will be accomplished in the second half of life, but only a fool would believe that all doors are still open to us. But in reality, not all doors were open to us in our youth and too many options, any social scientist will tell you, doesn’t make us happier but simply leaves us overwhelmed and confused.

The next time I read something telling me how to get back to my 30-year-old self I am going to remember that life after 50 is just life, and by almost every measure, better than what went before.



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Comments

  1. I’ll be 46 next year, and now I’m greatly anticipating it. I thought I was already happy, but knowing next year will be the launch of new levels of happiness is positively exciting. I can’t wait!
    Ginger Kay recently posted..What colour are your Christmas tree lights?My Profile

  2. happyoutlook says:

    Thanks for such an illuminating post! I would hope that like a fine wine, we get better with age. Definitely love being in my 50′s. My mantra is, “not older but wiser”.

  3. Amen! I did not like who I was at age 30. I focused on all the wrong things. Today I have more stimulating conversations, more easy-going friendships, more tolerance of my own foibles and those of others. Good post!

  4. What a great post! Im a 33 yo peeking in but very encouraged by everything said. I dont have abs or mental sharpness so I have nothing to swap for a good nights sleep but could really use one. Again, great read. Thanks for sharing.
    Felicity recently posted..MissionMy Profile

  5. I remember having so much anxiety about turning 40, but didn’t feel any when I approached 50. Now I understand why. Thanks for another great post.
    Anne Vaccaro Brady recently posted..Bonding with Your High School Senior Over College ApplicationsMy Profile

  6. bravo lisa. i do think we get happier after 50. i think it takes less to make us happy. not because we expect less, but because of that wisdom you mention. the joy of little things, accomplishments big and small, things we may have glossed over when we were younger as ordinary, we savor them and create them and share them.
    sandy recently posted..A TALE OF TWO TREESMy Profile

  7. What a great post !!!! Heading to my 50th birthday I am certainly most of those things you described !!!
    Have the best day !
    Me
    Me recently posted..Today SucksMy Profile

  8. I loved turning 40, so I know I’m really going to love turning 50. It really is only a number because I certainly don’t act that age on my driver’s license.
    Life With The Top Down recently posted..Gloria Vanderbilt’s Pet HorseMy Profile

  9. thanks for this – enlightening and life affirming
    on thehomefrontandbeyond recently posted..Just a Christmas Thought in Passing…..My Profile

  10. Gabby McCree says:

    Bravo, I for one want to use the gift of this “second half of life” to appreciate the freedom and obligation we have before us to discover who we really are.

  11. Itty Bitty Boomer says:

    I honestly didn’t much enjoy my 30′s … worked to many hours, missed my kids growing up, was dealing with life crap I wouldn’t have wished on anyone ever … and managed to survive it to enjoy my 50′s and now my 60′s! Life is good now …
    Itty Bitty Boomer recently posted..Lifting The Veil ~ 12/21/12 ~ The End Or The Beginning?My Profile

  12. There’s a saying that “youth is wasted on the young.” I feel that our multitude of experiences growing up and older prepared us for our next life chapters. I am grateful to be alive, but at 65 I feel too young to be the matriarch of my entire extended family. However, as you point out, this is our time to enjoy life and all its possibilities. Let’s laugh life up and be ready, willing and able to say yes to new possibilities we never would have imagined in our younger days.

  13. When my kids were younger, it was hard to anticipate how much I would enjoy them as teenagers. Now that I am in my forties, I find that although this phase has its challenges, it’s the most fun so far. I can reason with my kids (most of the time) and joke around with them (sometimes they don’t even roll their eyes at me). :)
    Lisa Tognola recently posted..Five Mistakes to Avoid at Your Hanukkah PartyMy Profile

  14. Alison Price says:

    Since I moved into the fifty plus group I find I am more satisfied with my life in general. When I was younger being satisfied was something I was looking for. Exactly when this change in perspective occurred is unclear but I’m happy to be at this place now.
    Thanks.

  15. I agree, agree, and then agree some more. I’m 53 and have never felt so at ease with who I am and comfortable doing things I enjoy and omg I do not miss the drama of youth! Of course working along side some bright and shiny new college graduates this year has illuminated the comparisons in a major way. MUCH rather be where I am now.
    BetteJo recently posted..Ice, anyone?My Profile

  16. I’m teetering on the edge of 50 (will hit it in a year and a half) and have looked forward to it for sometime, mostly because of all the post-50 articles and communities and such that make it sound like a wise and grand group I want to be part of. Now even more so, thanks to your research and enlightenment. Though I *do* sincerely hope to have recovered by then from the financial blow of 2008 that’s led to more “stress and dismay” for my husband (who *is* over 50) and me in the last few years, in relative terms, than those lean empire-building years of decades ago. BUT…at least the kids are gone, so no more school photos, athletic fees, prom dresses to worry about while on a tighter-than-ever budget. My hope is by 50, all will be well with the world, mine and the one at large. (Yep, I’m a dreamer.)
    Lisa @ Grandma’s Briefs recently posted..Ornaments of Christmases pastMy Profile

  17. Cheryl Holland says:

    I’m 45 and loving my forties. Finally figured out what I want and what I like and don’t feel obligated to appease others anymore. Looking forward to being a fabulicious 50!

  18. I turned 50 last year. Every word of this post rings true for me. I am working on a strength challenge – becoming stronger in my 50th year, not because I’ve suddenly lost my strength, but because it is about time I find it.
    Savvyworkinggal@hotmail.com recently posted..Life is not about perfectionMy Profile

  19. I’m 31 years old and struggling a bit with my age…Just not quite where I want to be, embarking on a new career, waiting to find a life partner, eagerly awaiting until I’m allowed to become a mother. And thanks to you I can now say, “I can’t wait to be 50!”

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