I’ve witnessed a few people in the midst of a midlife crisis but have not suffered from a full blown one, or at least not that I know of, so my perspective is one of a person who has observed this from the outside. At 52 I may be a little beyond “midlife”, but I don’t feel that I’m out of the woods yet. In fact I watch for signs, not in my actions, but in my thoughts.
I guess I should talk about what I think causes a midlife crisis first. Alright, maybe not “the cause”, but at least one serious contributing factor. Nothing makes a person question their life more than when they begin to face their mortality head on. When you reach a point where there is more life behind you than ahead of you death starts to seem much more real. At the same time you are likely to be experiencing loss of grandparents, parents, or other friends and relatives from earlier generations. Dealing with the death of others you are close to can definitely force you to face your own mortality. This can go beyond a shallow acknowledgement that “we are all headed to the same final destination”, to wondering when it will come and almost more importantly… how will I handle it? Will I become angry, anxious, overwhelmed, depressed, or lose all zest for living? What will be important to me at that point, my memories, the people around me, my children, or will all the things I care most about now become meaningless once my death is eminent. Will it really matter that I hiked across the Grand Canyon. A couple hundred years from now who will even know I was here? Even if they know I was here they won’t really know me, the people who know me will all be long gone too. Once you start thinking about it to that level be very careful because the next thought will be “what’s it all for”, “why am I here”, or more importantly why don’t I buy a convertible sports car, chuck my marriage, and live a life of debauchery!
If you start down a path of obsessing about death, even occasionally, you are on a slippery slope that can lead to a full blown midlife crisis. I’ve had hints of the types of feelings that come with such a crisis. Every want or desire becomes a source of dissatisfaction instead of a goal. Every dissatisfaction takes away from the happiness of all the terrific things in your life. The focus shifts to what you don’t have, what you haven’t accomplished, what you need to be happy. Patience goes out the window. You want a plan – right now. Once you have a plan, you want the reward, right now! If you can’t have what you want with the person you’re with, you want out. It doesn’t matter whether you can afford something or not… “you only live once – right?”. When you do achieve one of your goals, there that nagging feeling… what was the point!
But if you really think about it, death is harder for the living. Those who are left behind have to deal with death, not the person who died. The experience of dying can range from peaceful, to horrible, and it’s not something we should be happy about, but it does end. Death is the end of life, but also the end of dying. Regardless of what you think is next… heaven, hell, reincarnation, or nothing you will no longer be dealing with death! If you can look at death in that way, then you can focus on the cure, the inoculation for a midlife crisis… life! Life, even though it is fleeting, even though it will end, is an absolute miracle. Just walk to a window and look out, look in any direction and be amazed at what you see. The world is an amazing place to live. Check it out, take a walk, take a drive, go for a run, a swim, a paddle, a sail, a hike and look around you. Pause to watch a sunset, walk up to the edge of the ocean and take a deep, deep breath. Bask in the world around you, take it ALL in, because this is what it’s all about!
If you focus on living more than on the end of living you should be able to avoid or pull out of a midlife crisis. Live your life, share it with the people you love. Happiness is not a gift from others, it is a gift to yourself. No mater how much you love someone, no matter what you are doing, you can choose happiness or you can choose to be unhappy and dissatisfied. It is your choice, choose life, love, and happiness, or let fear, uncertainty, and dissatisfaction rule your life. I know what I’ve chosen up until now and I don’t plan to change a thing!