Your lev­els of con­tent­ment are proven to nose-dive in mid-life. Here’s how to avoid be­com­ing a grumpy dad

Men's Health (Australia) - - Mh Dad -

End­less sin­ga­longs to The Wig­gles. En­forced bouts of celibacy. The pain of step­ping on yet an­other bas­tard piece of Lego . . . Yes, fa­ther­hood is won­drous and life-af­firm­ing, but it can also prove a daily chal­lenge.

The bad news is that most dads will nav­i­gate the whirl­wind of tod­dler tantrums and sleep de­pri­va­tion at a stage of life when sta­tis­ti­cally they’re also un­der the most emo­tional duress.

Econ­o­mists from War­wick Univer­sity in the UK con­ducted a huge study that fol­lowed 50,000 adults in Aus­tralia, Bri­tain and Ger­many through­out their lives. They found lev­els of con­tent­ment tend to hit an all-time low when

peo­ple hit their 40s. Re­searchers call this mid-life dip “the U-shaped life-sat­is­fac­tion curve” - an idea that’s sup­ported by a bun­dle of aca­demic stud­ies.

“It’s that nasty tran­si­tion when you feel you haven’t achieved what you wanted to,” ex­plains

Jonathan Rauch, au­thor of The Hap­pi­ness Curve: Why Life Gets

Bet­ter Af­ter Midlife. “You’re dis­ap­pointed in the past and pes­simistic about the fu­ture.”

Luck­ily, there's light at the end of the tun­nel – the stats show hap­pi­ness lev­els typ­i­cally start to rise again in your 50s. But what can you do in the mean­time if you’re ven­tur­ing into this tricky age bracket?


Money, fame, wild sex . . . there’ll al­ways be some­one who out­guns you in each de­part­ment. But if you waste time com­par­ing your­self to their sit­u­a­tion, you’re leap­ing on an ex­press train straight to the dol­drums.

Dur­ing his midlife slump, Rauch found him­self do­ing this com­pul­sively. Aware this habit was bring­ing him down, he de­vel­oped a ba­sic sys­tem of cog­ni­tive be­hav­iour treat­ment to break the loop. When­ever he found him­self nega­tively com­par­ing his sit­u­a­tion to some­one else, Rauch would re­peat the mantra “No com­par­i­son”. The idea: to si­lence the in­ner critic be­fore it de­liv­ered yet an­other sneer­ing re­buke.

It’s sound ad­vice if you’ve ever found your­self con­vuls­ing with envy at a mate’s high-rolling life­style on In­sta­gram. To stay sane, strive to ap­pre­ci­ate what you’ve got rather that what you haven’t. As econ­o­mist Richard La­yard says in Rauch's book: “One se­cret to hap­pi­ness is to ig­nore com­par­isons with peo­ple who are more suc­cess­ful than you are: al­ways com­pare down­wards, not up­wards.”


Rauch hit his rocky pe­riod in his 40s. “I felt like I might never feel sat­is­fied with any­thing again.” Com­pound­ing his an­guish was an aware­ness that, on pa­per, his life was ac­tu­ally pretty good – he was hap­pily mar­ried and kick­ing ma­jor ca­reer goals (he’d just won the Na­tional Mag­a­zine Award, the mag­a­zine in­dus­try’s equiv­a­lent of the Pulitzer Prize). Yet know­ing that his dis­quiet had no log­i­cal ba­sis only ag­gra­vated Rauch’s malaise by mak­ing him feel un­grate­ful to boot.

While writ­ing his book, Rauch spoke to psy­chol­o­gists who coun­sel peo­ple for mid-life dis­sat­is­fac­tion. Their ad­vice: in­stead of beat­ing your­self up over this self-per­ceived char­ac­ter flaw, nor­malise what you’re go­ing through and re­mem­ber this is a typ­i­cal de­vel­op­men­tal stage that will even­tu­ally dis­perse.

“You need to break the spi­ral of self-re­crim­i­na­tion that hap­pens to peo­ple in this age-re­lated funk,” Rauch says. Re­mind your­self that it’s a nor­mal, nat­u­ral, healthy tran­si­tion. Yes, it’s a pain to go through. But it has a splen­did pay-off in your 50s, 60s, 70s even 80s.”


Men are vir­tu­ally hard-wired to try and fix prob­lems. When you’re stuck in a rut, it’s nat­u­ral to want to shake things up. But that doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean you should chuck in your nine-to-five day-job on a mad im­pulse. Or em­bark on some doomed af­fair

with the 22-year-old of­fice re­cep­tion­ist.

“Step don’t leap,” ad­vises Rauch. “Change is of­ten im­por­tant and nec­es­sary. But es­pe­cially in this pe­riod of life it’s im­por­tant to keep change log­i­cal. Be sus­pi­cious of dis­rup­tive change.”

That doesn’t mean your master­plan to sell your house and be­come a div­ing in­struc­tor in the Philip­pines doesn’t have any merit. Maybe just can­vas the opin­ions of trusted friends and fam­ily first.

Peo­ple at the bot­tom of the U-curve of­ten iso­late them­selves by not talk­ing to those close to them about how they feel. “They don’t want to panic their loved ones or be mocked for hav­ing a mid-life cri­sis so they keep it se­cret,” Rauch says.

Don’t go it alone: talk to your wife or phone a friend. If they’re of a sim­i­lar vin­tage, chances are they’ll know what you’re talk­ing about.


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