Barbara Bradley Hagerty defines being middle-aged as being between the ages of 40-65. Falling somewhere in between those parameters, I was intrigued to find out more about what she means by midlife renewal as opposed to the ubiquitous term “midlife crisis”.
Delving into the well-categorized chapters on learning new things, importance of friendships, marriage, memory loss, finding a purpose in life, altruism, and second careers, I bookmarked so many pages that I might do better just re-reading it!
There is hope for us mid-lifers yet! Midlife renewal involves taking a hard look at your situation in life and understanding what brings you happiness and fulfillment. Hagerty states,”This is a time when you shift gears…the moment can be exhilarating rather than terrifying, informed by the experiences of your past and shaped by the promise of your future.” Now that people are living well beyond retirement age, decisions that are made today affect the rest of your life.
In order to live richly in one’s middle years, three themes seem to dominate, according to Hagerty. They are: Engage with verve — in your relationships, your continued education, your career, and in everything you do. Doing this will bring you satisfaction and joy. This engagement with the world fosters social networks and a feeling of being “generative” — helping perpetuate future generations with aid and nurturing. Choose purpose over happiness — pursuing long term goals over short term happiness gives meaning to life. Pay attention to your thoughts and attitudes — they can shape how you experience the world.
Brain games, you may have heard, are good for the aging mind. Keep your mind sharp by doing crosswords, Sudoku and fun little games on your smart phones we’re told. This effort to exercise the mind, to employ “fluid intelligence” is important, but so is novelty. New mental challenges, such as learning a new activity that taps both working memory and long term memory, have been shown to boost cognition in the elderly, staving off dementia, more so than just a procedural task. People with a purpose in life, that find each day meaningful, have been found less likely to develop dementia or cognitive decline, even when their autopsies show the pathology of having Alzheimer's. So find a new passion or hobby early on, to carry you through your senior years.
Novelty also seems to keep long term marriages alive, a concern in middle age when so many marriages break up. The brain rewards novel activity (we’re talking new experiences such as a cultural event, a sport or creative pursuit in case you were wondering!) with a little “dopamine-driven reward”. So explore that new museum together, or hike that trail you’ve never explored.
Resilience: the ability to regulate one’s response to fear. Hagerty explains that we all have ways to handle fear and difficult situations, whether it’s a natural optimism, the support of friends and family or just one’s own resourcefulness. Finding meaning in adversity and maintaining a positive mental attitude allows for better health and longer life, according to numerous studies.
There are still a number of yellow stickies pasted in this book, marking passages that I didn’t get to in this review. So I suggest if you’re wondering about how to seize the best opportunities of midlife and are looking for an interesting read, pick up this award-winning NPR journalist’s book, “Life Reimagined, the Science, Art and Opportunity of Midlife”.