Millennials, Here’s How to Flatten Your U-Curve.
Many of you are familiar with recent social science research that has shown a U-curve of happiness in which adult life satisfaction supposedly dips to its nadir around age 47.2 (your mileage may vary). The forties have been a historically treacherous and ultimately triumphant decade when mid-lifers feel a declining sense of happiness, only to start improving in the latter part of that decade.
So, given that the oldest Millennials have just entered their forties, what advice can I give them to moderate their midlife crisis? Well, first off, let’s recognize that in the past few years, pop psychology has coined a “quarter-life crisis.” So, who knows, maybe this generation is clever enough to have gotten their adult crisis out of the way already. Of course, some of this quarter-life crisis for Millennials has been due to the Great Recession, student debt, and existential threats to the world. But, regardless of the reason, I’m still somewhat optimistic that Millennials can flatten their U-curve of happiness (not experience the dips that their parents or grandparents experienced). Why? Here are three reasons:
Disappointment = Expectations - Reality. A midlife crisis is often about an unraveling of expectations. It’s the time when we realize the job, spouse, kids, home, and lifestyle aren’t what we expected them to be. Because Millennials entered adulthood during the 9/11 era as well as the dot-com bust recession and then suffered through the housing crisis of the Great Recession, they’ve managed their expectations relatively well as a generation. However, there are always outliers (the 30-year-old who’s pissed-off at himself for not being a mega-billionaire like Mark Zuckerberg). In other words, this generation has already had some “expectations creep” when it comes to money, power, and fame. Generally speaking, the Millennial generation seems like it’s been quite iterative in its expectations management which is good and healthy.
The Organization Man Died Long Ago. Another reason people go off the rails in their forties is that they’re living someone else’s definition of success. As David Byrne and the Talking Heads suggested, "And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile. And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife. And you may ask yourself, 'Well... how did I get here?'" The unconscious, linear path defined by "The Game of Life" board game doesn’t represent today’s Millennials as they’ve been open to taking the path less traveled, as evidenced by being the world’s first digital nomads. You may occasionally be frustrated with your Millennial kids or friends because they seem to chart their path without the tight constraints we grew up with, but just know there may be a tad bit of envy in your emotions as they’re just taking Oscar Wilde’s advice: "Be yourself...everyone else is taken."
Midlife Crisis Now Appears on the Roadmap. While it’s been more than fifty-five years since the term "midlife crisis" appeared in academia, the media has done a damn good job of posting warning signals about this treacherous stretch of road we call our forties. And the more recent U-curve of happiness research and publicity has become almost a "Waze" GPS navigation software for our emotions. So, there are fewer people going into this stage of their life unaware of some of the perils and pitfalls of midlife. More importantly, there are now more resources (like MEA) that are helping to pull individuals out of a ditch if the proverbial car drives off the road.
Feel free to share this with friends or children of yours who may be addressing the "slippery when wet" twist in the road that we call our forties.