I am turning 60. It’s a big birthday. When I was young, I had trouble imagining even getting this far. It seems like only yesterday that my father reached 60…and here I am!
In my 40s, I expected to feel bittersweet about this milestone. Or just bitter. Traditionally, 60 is the gateway to old age. Unlike at, say, 50, there is less of my adult lifetime ahead of me than there is behind me, maybe much less. That would seem cause for sourness.
Interestingly, though, I don’t feel that way at all. More like the opposite. I feel eager to be a 60-something and to travel the road ahead.
A letter I received recently helps explain why. From John P.:
I finished the book last night and I can’t tell you enough what a profound effect it has already had on me. I so closely fit so many of the profiles you feature in the book — 53 years old, optimism has waned, moderately successful but wanting something more worthwhile and muddling through a seemingly never-ending malaise.
Yet your book has encouraged me so by letting me know that I am not alone. That so many others share the same feelings I do. That the path I’m on is actually crowded with so many others who are taking the same steps I am!
I am just starting a midlife career change and reading your book has given me renewed energy and strength, along with a belief that with hard work and trust in my abilities I have a good chance at being successful at it.
Thank you for taking the time to write such a great book. It has been a joy to read and will continue to be a great guide for me as I continue my journey towards a more worthwhile life and ever-increasing wisdom.
John’s is the kind of letter authors live for, but credit for his renewed optimism belongs to the message, not the messenger. If you have read The Happiness Curve, you know that a midlife slump, if it happens, is something you need to go through. It is part of the natural adult development process, and healthy if managed properly. But you also know that misconceptions about midlife “crisis” exacerbate the natural downturn by making us feel unduly worried and pessimistic. Is chronic disappointment going to last forever? Isn’t the best part of life behind us? Aren’t we looking at a future of physical and cognitive and emotional decline?
Just knowing there is nothing wrong with him—in fact, there is something right with him—is a source of relief to John P. It interrupts negative cycles of self-denigration and shame. And knowing that the curve turns upward in late adulthood, not downward, reignites optimism for him at age 53. And for me, at 60.
Knowing is the key word there. Having dived deeply into the science, I know the increase in emotional wellbeing I experienced in my 50s is likely to continue in my 60s and beyond. Chances are, my emotional resilience and steadiness will increase. (A new study adds to the mountain of existing evidence.) On the odds, I will find more satisfaction and gratitude in relationships and everyday connections which I once overlooked or took for granted. Much of the best is yet to come.
Knowledge is power. I look ahead to my seventh (!) decade with an optimism I never expected to feel.
Sir Thomas Beecham, the great British conductor and raconteur, said that life begins at 70. “In fact,” he said, “the first 70 years are the worst.” In that spirit…happy birthday to me!