I thought that we middle-aged men ruled the world. So I was surprised to learn that we are officially the most miserable people in Britain. Over the three years, the Office for National Statistics asked 300,000 people how happy they were. They found that respondents in the 40-59 age bracket had the lowest levels of satisfaction and the highest levels of anxiety. Happiness seems to drop off after the age of 35, reaching a low point between 50 and 54, and picking up again only at 60. And men are, on average, significantly less satisfied than women.
Upon reflection, I guess it’s no great mystery why, as middle age is a battlefield. We mid-lifers have all the responsibility of caring for children and elderly parents. It’s the time when our optimism about life turns to disappointment. We face job insecurity, financial worry, marriage breakdown. Plus we are plagued by the onset of health and image problems. The most visible of which manifests itself in weight gain and obesity.
Middle-age: why kindness wins over insults
What can be done? Let’s take obesity as an example; the standard response, indulged in by the svelte majority, is to chide us middle-agers into thinness. But fat shaming is seldom more than a disguise for the last acceptable prejudice: being vile about fat people. And it’s totally counterproductive. Bullied people resort to comfort eating. And why go to the gym if you think you are going to be mocked?
In response to such mockery, I for one applaud a new fat positivity movement that has taken the opposite approach. But the reality is that obesity poses serious health problems. No, there’s a middle path between fat shaming and fat acceptance and that’s understanding. The middle-age body is weak; we need support, not criticism. Change will only come if people are more kind.
Climbing out of the middle-age valley
So, if we middle-agers can seek this kindness to get us to about 60 then the good news is that we eventually come out of a U-shaped trough. In fact, the years 65-79 are the happiest of all. At this age we are secure financially, resolved personally, with no career anxieties, and with less of a parental and filial burden. We are free to (once again) enjoy the finer things in life. What’s even better is that we can entertain ourselves by telling younger people stories about “the good old days”.
Yes, there are many reasons to be cheerful in middle age. The gradual narrowing of horizons is soothing. When you’re young, time seems limitless. Later on, you accept that you will never learn Chinese. Or understand the ideas presented in A Brief History of Time. Or learn to play guitar and become the next Jimmy Page.
Let’s not kid ourselves that it’s not a huge relief.
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