This piece originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com.
Uh oh, did you see this article? According to The Times of London, “If you are trudging through your 40s in the grip of a midlife crisis, beware. There is worse to come.”
“The years between 50 and 54 are officially the most miserable and dissatisfying,” says the article, quoting the British Office for National Statistics. “It had previously been thought that the late 40s were the most miserable phase of life as child rearing collided with career disappointment and marital troubles. The same factors are at play but coming later, the ONS said.”
There’s a bright spot though. The same research found that people age 65 to 79 are the happiest group of adults. That mirrors findings of a University of Chicago study that found the odds of being happy increase 5 percent with every 10 years of age. So what does that mean for those of us in the middle of life—just hang on, it gets better?
We’ve all heard about the stereotypical “midlife crisis,” in which people act out in crazy ways. Maybe you know someone who dropped a big chunk of their savings on an expensive car, had an affair and left their family or quit their job and ran off to a tropical island.
What is it about midlife that causes some people to react like it is a crisis? Is it the combination of raising children, career disappointments and marital troubles that causes life satisfaction and happiness ebb and anxiety to soar, as the British research suggests?
The problem with statistics, and stereotypes, is that they ignore our self-awareness and self-determination as individuals. Just because some people react to midlife as a crisis does not mean you have to.
Most of us at this age experience is what I call midlife malaise. We may feel our energy and creativity waning. We may feel bored and dissatisfied. Signs of midlife malaise include:
—You are haunted by thoughts of an unfulfilled dream, a yearning for something different.
—You find yourself asking questions that you can’t answer.
—You feel anxious, quick to anger, or lie awake at night thinking troubling thoughts.
Are you feeling quietly unhappy? If so, what’s the cause?
Most likely, you are feeling this way because you are missing a sense of purpose. It’s critical that you reclaim your sense of purpose, not just to avoid a “crisis,” but also to live a long and happy life. Research has shown that people driven by a sense of purpose, regardless of their age, are more likely to outlive their peers who felt aimless.
It’s not hard to understand how purpose contributes to longevity. Purpose is what gets you up in the morning and keeps you muscling through your own inner instincts to settle. Purpose is what drives you to power through obstacles and endure setbacks in your quest for a worthwhile goal.
How do you find your purpose? You can go out and buy an expensive car, but it’s not going to fill the void you are feeling. To do that requires you to acknowledge the child-like curiosity you’ve probably silenced along life’s worn and rutted road. Listen to what it is trying to tell you.
Many people try to stifle that voice. They keep their heads down and their noses to the grindstone, working away, year after year, until they can’t take it any more. Then one day they have a “crisis.”
Don’t let it happen to you. The first step is to acknowledge the voice inside that’s telling you not to settle, but to change. It won’t go away no matter how hard you try to silence it. Pushing it down only leads to that sense of quiet desperation that leaves so many people walking around feeling aimless, lifeless and purposeless.
Instead, realize that voice inside you is the part of you filled with wonder, dreams and hope for the future. It is the part of you that is the most you, and the part you could love again. It can be a source of energy, inspiration and curiosity, and a spark for change.
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So take time to listen to your inner child, understanding it’s not just throwing a tantrum but truly wants what’s best for you. Write down the desires of your heart, then start looking for small steps you can take that will move you toward where you want to be. When you start taking action on those, you will begin to rediscover your purpose, and your energy will start to flow again. Then you’ll be ready to pivot to the next exciting chapter of your life.