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Why Life Gets Better After 50

by Jonathan Rauch

Pub Date: May 1st, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-250-07880-3
Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Exploring the struggle for satisfaction at midlife.

Brookings Institution senior fellow and Atlantic contributing editor Rauch (Political Realism: How Hacks, Machines, Big Money, and Back-Room Deals Can Strengthen American Democracy, 2015, etc.) profiles an assortment of individuals who found themselves discontented in their 40s and 50s. Their lives had followed a classic trajectory: energized with motivation in their 20s and flush with responsibilities throughout their 30s, they eventually experienced a drastic downswing in happiness and fulfillment that proved challenging to overcome. In Rauch’s search for answers, he gleans perspectives from everyday people, notables such as former blogger Andrew Sullivan and historical figures such as landscape painter Thomas Cole. Also illuminating are the author’s frank reflections on his own personal life. While Rauch stresses that the scientific phenomenon of the “U-shaped life-satisfaction curve” is real and the midlife disillusionment slump perfectly natural, he also acknowledges the ways in which to counterbalance its effects and find an optimistic vantage point. “Time and aging fight happiness in midlife,” he writes, “then switch sides.” Rauch examines the nuances of human contentedness through the work of several “happiness economics” researchers who determined that social, not material, factors were most at play when measuring the happiness of people in later life, and he notes that the “curve” of midlife dissatisfaction is not necessarily an inevitability for everyone. Rauch’s keen research, partly based on statistical and polled data yet more largely substantiated by interviews and profiles of everyday people, documents how happiness levels trend downward as midlife approaches but also charts a return to enjoyment, wisdom, and an uptick in overall fulfillment once midlife is crested. He convincingly scrutinizes this harmonic resurgence of overall satisfaction (a “rebirth of gratitude”), attested to by survey respondents who attributed it to stress reduction and emotional regulation. This uplifting report offers hope and encouragement for aging readers doubting the longevity of bliss.

Stimulating reading for those seeking enlightenment and joyfulness throughout middle age.