I have learned so much from the stories people have told me about the textures and trajectories of their own lives. I hope to use this blog page to highlight and comment on some of the feedback and stories I hear. Not all will be happy.
Here’s an excerpt of a letter I received recently from a woman I’ll call “C”:
I am not sure what to expect, but hope for insight. … I will turn 60 later this year.
…I stayed with the same government entity where my husband worked. The first two years were okay and somewhat enjoyable. In 2014, my work place turned into a hostile work environment. I no longer had coworkers to confide. I learned my husband had multiple affairs at the same time and was abusing alcohol, drugs and gambling. I was struggling with two sons going through divorce, both of which financially impacted me due to loans made to the couples that were not repaid.
It was also around this time my health started to deteriorate from damage done to my lungs while on a detail in Iraq. My supervisor at this point was attempting to fire me for this reason. My work situation was and still is unbearable. I no longer have any associates or friends with which to confide. My time off is recovering or in bed sick. My nearest relative is eight hour drive away.
Based on the theory in your book, I should be going up the U curve. Instead, I feel frustrated, isolated, and desperate. I am at fifteen years beyond the norm of what the bottom of the U curve. What am I missing? What should I be focusing on changing so I achieve that fulfillment that others have experienced?
Comment: Good news and not so good news. Good news: the effect of time, by itself, is probably working to your benefit by age 65. That’s a significant effect.
Not so good news: Time is just one of the things that are going on. If you’re facing multiple serious problems in life, they can more than offset the effect of time. Those problems need to be tackled on their own terms.
C is battling a hostile work environment, a troubled marriage, health issues, and isolation from trusted family. The happiness curve can’t compensate for dysfunctional core relationships and troubled health.
What it can do is play a supporting role. Those who are facing multiple life challenges in middle age and late adulthood can benefit from knowing that they aren’t condemned to misery and dotage.
In C’s case, I can’t say whether and how she will weather her difficulties. I can say that I interviewed multiple people who came through similarly wrenching periods with resilience and found satisfaction. And that late adulthood is no time to throw in the towel!