Jokes about fast cars and busty women aside, a midlife crisis can be a very real thing for many men and women. The cause of said “crisis” is the realization that life isn’t going the way you expected. You worked hard and followed the rules, yet you feel unsatisfied, disconnected, and unhappy. Here are 4 rules to get you back on track, or avoid the crisis in the first place:
Rule 1. Don’t follow the rules. I say this tongue in cheek, as this blog posting is about following rules! What I mean is to follow new rules that don’t involve “shoulds.” You should be married by a certain age. You should have children. You should live in a certain neighborhood. You should sacrifice all your needs for your children. You should stay at a job you hate because at least you have a job. While some of these “shoulds” may be important to you, ask yourself where you learned them and then question whether they are attached to your personal purpose and mission in life. While you don’t want to dismiss your existing commitments in one fell swoop, you can start taking little steps to make your own rules so you can design your life, instead of your life designing you.
Rule 2. Find your passions. Explore what you’re passionate about, and in particular something that lights you up and involves helping others. Many people feel passionate about activities like golf, video games, or shopping, but I’m encouraging you to find passions that have an altruistic bent to them. Research shows that the benefits of activities that bring pleasure to us while helping others, versus purely hedonist pleasure for ourselves, last longer. If you connect this built in feel-good wiring with something that you are also passionate about, you have a recipe for deeper fulfillment and satisfaction.
Rule 3. Practice mindfulness. Cultivating regular mindfulness practices helps you stay in touch with what really makes you happy, content, and satisfied, versus what you think “should” make you happy. Developing mindfulness helps you stay present in the moment, even if that present moment involves uncomfortable thoughts, emotions, or sensations. When you learn to stay present, instead of running, distracting, or numbing yourself, you can access authenticity and vulnerability. These are paramount to deeply knowing yourself and knowing others.
Rule 4. Cultivate gratitude. The science of happiness repeatedly points to the importance of gratitude and appreciation as a key to happiness. It may seem counterintuitive to appreciate what you have, when you’re feeling unhappy and unfulfilled. But gratitude is foundational to building your optimism, which then leads to greater creativity, connection, and resilience. An attitude of gratitude will also help you identify what is working for you in life, and help you focus on cultivating more of that.
A mid-life crisis is not inevitable. If you’re in crisis it is likely because you let your life go on automatic pilot. The above 4 rules help you take the reins of your life and be responsible for your choices and path. Enjoy the ride—it is the only one you’ve got.
~Dr. Jenn Gunsaullus, San Diego -- Sexologist, Sociologist, Sexuality Speaker