I had a choice. I could stumble along at the edge of a midlife crisis, or I could reimagine my life. Barbara Bradley Hagerty
New book Life Reimagined: The Science, Art, and Opportunity of Midlife, by former NPR correspondent Barbara Bradley Hagerty, came about because she’d suspected she was entering a “midlife crisis“— and she wanted to know how to navigate such an imposing hurdle.
Hagerty interviewed “an astonishing number of middle-aged men and women and the psychologists, sociologists, physicians, geneticists, and neuroscientists who study them,” and what she learned was positive and hopeful, notes Kirkus Reviews: “The experience of middle age, she has discovered, ‘is more mountaintop than valley,’ characterized not by depression but by optimism and renewal, happiness and growth.”
The themes she addresses include—but aren’t limited to—work, sense of purpose, love, and friendship. As conveyed to Metro writer Emily Laurence, the following points are five of Hagerty’s most significant:
1. The vast majority of people don’t have a midlife crisis. “…Hagerty says that not only are your career and relationships more likely to be more stable than in your 20s and 30s, but you are more resilient and able to handle a crisis better.”
2. Your state of happiness actually rises. “…(T)there is a U-shape to happiness over the course of a lifetime. Research shows that happiness is high in the 20s and 30s, and then dips in the 40s and 50s. But in your late 50s, it starts to rise again, reaching the same levels as before.”
3. You absolutely are getting smarter. “While it’s true that fluid intelligence — being able to tackle problems you’ve never seen before — starts to decline in your late 20s, scientists have found that there is another type of intelligence, crystalized intelligence, that only increases. ‘This is everything you absorb,’ Hagerty explains. ‘It’s wisdom. It’s vocabulary. It’s general learning and knowledge.'”
4. You can turn back the clock on memory loss. “…(W)e are constantly creating new brain cells, and you can preserve them through learning new things…Exercising also plays a huge role.”
5. You have control to ward off Alzheimer’s. “’The number one predictor of escaping the symptoms of Alzheimer’s is purpose in life, having a reason to get out of bed in the morning,’ Hagerty says.”
According to Paula Novash, Washington Independent Review of Books, the following themes are identified by Hagerty as particularly important:
- Engage with verve: It takes work and focus, “…(b)ut if focusing on the important over the urgent demands intention and energy, it also ‘dramatically ups the odds that your life will be rich to your final breath’.”
- Choose purpose over happiness: “…Pursuing long-term objectives like raising great kids or training for a marathon may not result in a jolt of joy in every moment. But working toward these goals gives you the feeling that what you’re doing matters in a big way” (Novash).
- Your thinking is your experience: “’I am not arguing that whistling a happy tune will make you healthy, wealthy and wise,’ Hagerty says, but ‘your approach to triumphs and defeats, joy and pain and losses, the stuff no one escapes…will absolutely color how much you enjoy the trip’.”
George E. Vaillant, MD: “Life Reimagined is arguably the best book on middle life ever written. Not only is it in beautiful prose, but it’s also thoroughly researched. In order to feel understood and to anticipate the future, everybody from 30 to 70 should read this book. It is a joy.”
Marc Freedman, author,The Big Shift, and CEO, Encore.org.: “This book is destined to become the bible for boomers seeking to make the most of the bonus decades opening up in midlife and beyond, as well as for those younger generations on their heels.”
Gwen Ifill, co-anchor PBS NewsHour: “With humor, heart and hard-headed reporting, Barbara Bradley Hagerty manages to strike every nerve possessed by anyone entering midlife. The good news is that you end up smiling.”