Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Contentment, or Crisis?

The New York Times suggests there's no such thing as a midlife crisis, just narcissistic jerks finally facing the routine of family life and responsibility, and running away from it.

But surely someone has had a genuine midlife crisis. After all, don’t people routinely struggle with questions like “What can I expect from the rest of my life?” or “Is this all there is?”

Of course. But it turns out that only a distinct minority think it constitutes a crisis. In 1999, the MacArthur Foundation study on midlife development surveyed 8,000 Americans ages 25 to 74. While everyone recognized the term “midlife crisis,” only 23 percent of subjects reported having one. And only 8 percent viewed their crisis as something tied to the realization that they were aging; the remaining 15 percent felt the crisis resulted from specific life events. Strikingly, most people also reported an increased sense of well-being and contentment in middle age.

I've been asking those questions, and feeling the contentment. And it isn't a crisis; it's an opportunity. The reason I have those questions is because I have a great life: I don't have to worry about the basic physical and emotional needs of animal me. I have food and shelter, friends and family, challenging hobbies and rewarding work that pays enough. It's a luxury (even a privilege--although not an unearned advantage) to wonder about what's next, and whether there is more.

I appreciate that luxury.

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