Reflections on a Happier Midlife
Most people, including myself, tend to view happiness in a very personal way. One way I experience happiness – among many possible ways – is being in harmony with myself, my family, my associates, friends and wider community. Another person may view happiness as “having the freedom, health and opportunity to do great things for myself and others.” That too is a powerful message. Can we be happy even though we may be in the grip of what is commonly called a “midlife crisis”? In a new free e-Book 25 Reflections on a Happier Midlife and Beyond, Dr. Fred Horowitz and I explore this question and many others touching on “midlife crisis” and happiness. Here are some of our reflections.
The Happiness Continuum
Marcie Shimoff interviewed 100 people she considered to be happy. Writing in Happy for no reason, she came up with the notion of a happiness continuum. On one end of the continuum, you can be unhappy experiencing such emotions as fatigue or melancholy or thinking that you be in the throes of a “midlife crisis.” On the other end of the continuum, you can be happy for no reason. She describes this as a state of peace and well-being that does not depend on external circumstances.
In between these two levels are being happy for a “bad reason,” such as feeling good in the moment because of drugs, alcohol, over eating or any other addiction. There is also being happy for a “good reason,” such as getting a raise, having money in the bank, or being in love.
Dr. Fred Horowitz is an executive coach and specialist in “midlife crisis” coping strategies. He asserts that “while we may be experiencing a crisis, at our core, we still can be connected to a sense of well-being and peace.”
Three Kinds of Happiness
Robert Holden, a British researcher, has studied happiness for over 10 years, and describes the meaning of happiness in his book, Be happy. He posits that there are three kinds of happiness: sensory happiness or pleasure, circumstantial happiness or satisfaction, and unreasonable happiness or joy.
The first kind of happiness, pleasure, comes from our physical senses. He claims that there are both positive and negative aspects to this kind of happiness. On the positive side, sensory happiness is natural and life affirming; it gives you a sense of aliveness and connection with others. However, sensory happiness relies on an external stimulus and can be very transitory.
Holden refers to the second type of happiness as circumstantial happiness or simply satisfaction. We might think of this as being fulfilled or having a sense of subjective well-being. For example, we can have life satisfaction or job satisfaction. We can also get a lot of satisfaction from learning and growing. However, this too has its upside and downside. This kind of happiness also depends on external sources. It also tends to fade over time; we tend to quickly adapt to this kind of happiness and expect even more in the future. This can really play havoc with our peace of mind.
The Real Meaning of Happiness
Holden refers to a third type of happiness that he calls unreasonable happiness or being joyful. This is very similar to Shimoff’s notion of being happy for no reason. He states that “unless you cultivate awareness of joy, no amount of pleasure or satisfaction can make you happy.”
Dr. Fred Horowitz and I strongly believe that you do need not buy into the notion of “midlife crisis.” In a new free e-Book, we make the case that you can develop the capacity to create peace and happiness irrespective of external conditions.
Dr. Frank Bonkowski is an educator, writer and author of bestselling educational textbooks. He is co-founder, with Dr. Fred Horowitz, of http://www.happiness-after-midlife.com/sitesell.html, an educational website for midlifers and beyond devoted to adult transition and reinvention. Get the free e-Book, 25 Reflections on a Happier Midlife and Beyond, at http://www.happiness-after-midlife.com/get-free-e-book.html.