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.

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