Freelining with Mike Freeman: Depressed at 44

Being in your mid-40s isn't all that bad, when you give yourself a chance to relax a bit while revving up your goals and ambitions.

According to researchers, I should be miserable right now.

This should be the low point of my life.

Not because of a study on where I live, what my occupation is, how badly my hairline has receded. No, this study says the problem is my age.

The good news, though: I’ll get happier as I get older.

I’m totally confused.

A scientific study released in January basically claimed, “Middle age will make you miserable,” for those of you Baby Boomers born, like me, in the early 1960s. based on an international study of 2 million people from 80 nations, the researchers concluded that men and women in their 40s were most likely to be depressed and dissatisfied in life.

The researchers painted it this way: in your mid-forties, you’re at the bottom of a U-shaped curve. Put another way: you start out at a high point when you’re in your twenties. You’re full of energy, excitement about your potential, and a burning desire to succeed. You have dreams and you’re chasing them.

By your thirties, you’re starting to go downward: working your way up in your career, starting a family, buying a home, etc. This consumes you.

Then you hit your forties.

The dreaded forties.

One of the study’s co-authors, Andrew Oswald — an economist at the University of Warwick in Coventry, England — explained it this way to USA Today: “It’s midlife per se. It’s something deep beyond all the controls in our equation. It’s a developing midlife low. It doesn’t just happen one year and go away another.”

He said the probability of depression peaks around age 44 – and I’m just past that now.

I’m depressed to know I should even be depressed, even though I wasn’t particularly unhappy prior to reading the study.

The reason people are supposed to feel depressed at 44 is many of them think they had greater ambitions in life, and ended up settling for less than they wanted at age 20. Or they suddenly feel like they’re stuck in a situation — so-so marriage, blah job — that no longer satisfies them. They’re depressed because they think, Is this all there is? Is this the most I’ll ever achieve?

Then, as they get into their fifties, their aspirations and expectations get lower. They hope for less and they expect less. Since they no longer have a burning desire to be a) a great ballerina; b) president of the United States; c) salesman of the month once a decade … they begin to get happier because they no longer care if their grandest ambitions have fallen into the toilet.

Boy, cheerful study, huh? I wonder if the folks who market Prozac are incorporating it into their advertising. I guess according to this theory, by the time you’re 75, you’ll get up every morning acting like you just inhaled laughing gas. Then 82 should be sheer nirvana — break out the party hats!

The study — by Oswald and economist David Blanchflower of Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., and published in the journal Social Science & Medicine — doesn’t offer up much hope for my forty-something crowd. As Oswald told USA Today, “You can be almost certain you will follow this U-shaped curve. If you are finding life tough in your 40s, maybe it’s useful to know this is completely normal.”

I find that so comforting as I stand here on the edge of the bridge, ready to jump.

But the real problem for me is that as I look back on my life, I don’t think I’m on a U-shaped curve. I’m more like an arrow pointing up that hasn’t reach the top yet or started to go down. True, there are things about getting older that I don’t like: less hair on your head, more in your nose, and having a harder time staying awake at night for your fave TV shows.I particularly hate what aging does to your feet. If I had known this at age 20, I would have stopped aging. But ….

I wasn’t all that impressed with my twenties. It took me a while to settle into a career — I got my first newspaper job at age 25, and had many unpleasant jobs before that — and I didn’t make much money throughout that entire decade. I got my first professional job at a daily newspaper at age 28. Life got better in my 30s. I settled into my first stable relationship, and I’m still there all these years later.

I also got bolder as I got older, quitting my job and relocating from New England to Florida. I started off with no job to go to, no great career prospects at a time when the economy was tanking following the 9-11 terrorist attacks. I didn’t find a hot job right away. But eventually it happened, and I landed a job that I love, much better than the one I left behind.

Living in the big tourist city of Orlando, I’m having more fun than I did in my twenties or thirties. I make more money now than in past decades. To me, it’s a relief to no longer be where I was a decade — or even two decades — ago. I’m just plain happier today than as a twentysomething or thirtysomething. Why? Maybe some people just settle for mediocrity as their lot in life.

Maybe because my expectations in life got stronger as I got older, and I had no qualms about pursuing them. I was still trying to find myself at 24, still trying to break out of my shell, still hoping to stop being the shy, quiet, introverted guy I was back then. That man doesn’t exist anymore. And I like that.

So to hell with the researchers and their U-shaped curve. Life is sweet, baby, and getting groovier by the minute. My curve is still pointing to the sky.

Contact Mike Freeman at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com.

The motivation and determination of Ants.

Ants.

The first thought that comes to mind is likely a picture of annoyance … of anthills in your lawn, and of the painful bites they tend to inflict. Most people won’t draw a parallel to a motivated, determined, strong or intelligent insect.

I’m sitting in the sun. Sweat drips down my forehead to my chin, and I follow it as it drips on the dirt. I’m sitting cross-legged in the grass, my back against a steel beam, enjoying the sun in what has recently become a daily routine. I watch again as a solitary bead of sweat drips down my chin, and into the path of a little rodent.

I turn my attention to the aforementioned any, as he scurries to avoid the inevitable next drop. I watch as he locates his “pals,” and they all take off in separate directions, looking for something of unknown origin.

I watch this ant in particular, the one who masterfully dodged the bead of sweat that would have soaked him. He just continues to wander to and fro, as if he has nothing to do, but is determined to wander for the rest of his days.

Then, an unexpected blessing for my little ant friend: a wayward wasp lands just outside of his path, but Mr. Ant decides to check out his visitor. This wasp just so happens to be carrying a package – a beetle I’m sure he was planning for lunch. I move my head to get a better look, and the wasp startles, leaving behind his gourmet meal, already dead and ready for consumption.

When Mr. Ant wanders on to this delicacy, he inspects it for a moment, then runs off on a mission to find his buddies. Once he runs into one, they touch heads, as if transferring thoughts, and Mr. Ant heads back to his meal.

Well, pretty soon he’s joined by about 20 other ants, and they waste little time swarming over their “gift from above.”

In all honesty, by this time all these little ants are kind of looking the same, leaving me to recall the fleeting notion to put a collar and leash on my “Mr. Ant.”

Oh well. About this time, my – or what I choose to believe is my – Mr. Ant heads in a beeline toward their main nest. He pops his little ant body in and returns with some requisitioned helpers. Proudly and triumphantly leading the way, Mr. Ant heads back to the prize that he found,  and, with his helpers, he leads his mighty army in moving the beetle onward to his mount.

Now, bear in mind, this beetle is at least 25 times the size of my beloved Mr. Ant. But push, pull, drag – he leads the way home while his pals help hoist their heavy load. Other ants even help to clear the path of obstacles that could present a hindrance on the consumption of their evening meal.

By this time, more sweat glistens as it rolls downward right into Mr. Ant’s way. The few beads even splash some of his helpers, and – though stunned momentarily – they get right back to their task, quite undeterred.

By now they’re just about to their nest, a mere 24 inches by our standards – but miles to them, I’m sure. Now that Mr. Ant has gotten his prize home, he scurries to his hole and pops back out, as if in a state of contemplation.

Then Mr. Ant comes over and touches heads with another Mr. Ant, and they both head back toward their hole. Next, Mr. Ant #1 and Mr. Ant #2 begin digging, widening this tunnel, as if to widen a doorway when an extremely large cousin comes over for dinner – uninvited.  Well, soon other Mr. Ants are realizing the task at hand, and without hesitation they all help their fellow “ant brethren” in their tunnel expansion.

I just sit there, perspiring in the rays of the now unrelenting sun, in partial awe of these determined little insects.

Some time passes, and by now the tunnel looks as though you could drive a minivan through it – a little ant minivan. Or maybe a beetle.

And apparently that’s what my ant friend had in mind.

Now finished, he and his ant brigade start carrying their pilfered booty into the tunnel, and down into the depths of their cavernous ant nest.

Now what? My Mr. Ant and his buddies have left me, disappearing one by one into their little next. Oh well, such is life.

But what I have learned by taking the time out notice these small things? For starters, our lives and communities — and world, for that matter – could all take notes from Mr. Ant. For starters, he kept going unrelentingly, until he found whatever it was he was looking for. Then he humbled himself and asked for help, and he received it.

Mr. Ant was motivated and didn’t let his small stature stop him from accomplishing his task. Nor did he allow himself to give up before it was completed. He never sat back and let others finish the job, he was dedicated to the task at hand – not to mention that when more work needed to be done, everyone realized it and got to work without so much as a second thought (assuming ants think).

Ever notice that after a heavy rainfall, that anthills are almost always completely demolished … and yet the very next day ants are busy rebuilding? Those little guys are quite the hard workers. They never let adversity make them fail.

Heck, I’d like to be more like Mr. Ant. Imagine if we all acted like ants? I do believe communities, life, and even the world might just be a better place then.

Contact Dave Raith at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com.

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