How is the year going? I wonder if you got time to think about the questions I asked in my New Year blog? How are the New Year Resolutions coming along – or didn’t you make any?!
It is quite a difficult time of the year in the UK – the grey skies and chilly winds make it hard to keep cheerful. Recently there has been a survey on happiness trends by the economist Andrew Oswald – see www.andrewoswald.com. His research has shown that there is a worldwide U-shaped dip in happiness in our middle years, peaking at around 40-44 and possibly accounting for the ‘mid-life crisis’.
Certainly this is my experience personally, and in my professional work as a coach I find that a large number of my clients are between the ages of 35-45. I think this is a natural time to review life and work decisions. In their early years people often adapt to their family, peer and social environment so as to be accepted in society and find work. After a few years they are in a better position to look back and question whether the lifestyle and career that they have chosen really suits them. It is as if their inner self demands to come out and find expression in the world. A good book to help understand this is The Soul’s Code by James Hillman (http://www.positiveworks.com/products/reading.htm ), where Hillman talks about the fact that everyone is born with a unique spark and how at some stage of life this uniqueness that lies within each of us demands attention and release.
Happiness, though, is an ephemeral state and to seek it on a continual basis could be to deny other less comfortable but nonetheless valid emotions. Emotions are there to give us cues to action. If people feel less happy in the mid-years it is probably because there is something in their life that their unconscious knows is not in alignment with who they truly are. This translates into a restlessness for change and so people do radical things like change career, break up relationships, move to another place or country, come out sexually, write a novel or develop their creativity. It is not easy for those around them and frequently not easy for the individual either, which is why many people choose to have the support of a coach (http://www.positiveworks.com/coaching/index.htm) to help them clarify their decisions.
I suspect the U-shape of happiness towards the end of life again relates more to a contentment about being able to be oneself, not someone who is adapting to gain the approval of family and society. Throughout our lives I think we are honing this ability to be the individual we are born to be. This is particularly observable in teenage years where a child is beginning the major separation process from the parent. People tend to shift again in their mid-twenties when they have begun to make a place in the world and are no longer financially dependent on their parents so have greater freedom to express themselves with or without the approval of family. The process, therefore, is not a one-off experience at 40 but frequently the mid-life crisis tends to be the most radical. However, as we are living longer people in their 50s and 60s and beyond are also making major changes. A good book on this subject is Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes by William Bridges (http://www.positiveworks.com/products/reading.htm).
So, as we start the new year it is a good time to review whether the life you are living is reflective of your inner self or whether there are some minor – or indeed major changes -you could make that could help you to align your outer world of life and work with your inner world. If so, you may find that a coach can help you through the process of challenge and analysis and at the same time can help you to be gentle with yourself and with those around you.