Did you know happiness is a U-curve?
From about age 18 until the end of our 40s, we gradually grow less happy.
And then, from our mid-50s onwards, we gradually grow happier until we’re just as happy at 65 as we were at 25.
Now, this obviously isn’t true for everyone. But there’s substantial research to show that if you live in a well-off Western country, you’re going to feel a lot less stressed and a lot more satisfied with your life once you get past the crucible of your 40s.
And that’s REALLY good news for anyone concerned about aging.
All too often, we’re told that, for women, life gets worse as you age. You become invisible. You lose your looks. You get health problems. Your income shrinks.
You are expected to shrivel away. At the very best, your role is to be a grandma or a volunteer, a support person rather than in the spotlight.
And that may have been the case for much of human history, when we couldn’t expect to live as long in such good health.
But today there’s a different way to think about the adventure of getting old.
Aging gives you freedom.
Life with Rose-Colored Glasses
Like many women my age, you couldn’t pay me to go back to my twenties.
I prefer to keep the wisdom of experience, thank you very much!
I was so naïve, and I was so dumb, and I made SO MANY mistakes. I had to, in order to learn.
Yet our culture idealizes those twenty-somethings, because they seem to have it all. They’re young, they’re healthy, they’re attractive, they’re footloose and fancy free. Or, at least, they THINK they’re free.
What we fail to remember about twenty-somethings is that they’ve been carried for most of their lives.
Until recently, most of them had a guaranteed roof over their head and food to eat. They had somewhere to go every day that was focused on teaching them rather than exploiting them. If something bad happened, most had people to catch them and get them back on their feet.
No wonder they face their adult lives with confidence and vim and vigor. They think they can do anything. That’s their superpower.
But they don’t know what they don’t know.
They don’t know that life is hard and only gets harder.
They don’t know what they’ll be called to sacrifice.
You and I know those things, because we’ve passed that point. We’ve had to grow up and leave the things of children behind.
No wonder our happiness levels are less. Between work and family and health issues and the economy and everything else on our plate, it’s hard to be as optimistic as we were back then.
The Midlife Trough
There’s a book that came out in 2020 called Why We Can’t Sleep. It’s by Ada Calhoun, and it’s about midlife women who are falling apart.
Calhoun interviewed hundreds of middle-class American women to find out what was keeping them up at night, and the result is a depressing litany of the challenges of being middle age today.
She found that so many women are feeling beaten down and broken and tired. They’re thinking, “This isn’t what I was promised back when I was growing up.”
We were told that if you just did what you were told, you’d have a great life. You’d have a home and a family and a husband and a retirement fund and yearly vacations and money for a gym membership and nice clothes and facials.
And guess what happened?
You couldn’t afford the mortgage, your husband cheated on you, your parents got sick, you had to quit your job, you drained your savings trying to stay afloat, etc., etc.
No wonder a woman’s 40s tends to be tough—all that pressure comes crashing down.
It feels like things have been bad for so long and surely they’re only going to get worse. Because we’re getting older, and we don’t have the energy anymore, and look at what’s happening to the world…
But that is where we’re wrong.
The Happiness Turning Point
The U-shaped curve of happiness tells us that it gets darkest right before the dawn.
And what’s going to kick off that next stage in our life, when the sun starts shining again, is…
Yes, you heard me right. 🙂
Not a lot of people get excited about menopause.
It seems to be the nail in the coffin of youth. Once you get through menopause, you are “old.”
But is that the right word for it?
Or is a better word powerful?
Once women get through menopause, life looks different.
They’ve usually empty nesters by then, with grown children. They see retirement up ahead if they’re lucky (I realize that retirement is becoming something of a luxury these days).
And something changes inside of them.
They get some of their mental space back for themselves, and they start thinking:
What do I actually want in my life? I’ve spent the last 20, 30 years serving others. I’ve spent the last 30 years doing everything I was told to do, and nobody rewarded me. I did everything right, and my husband still won’t lift a finger around the house, and my employer still forgets my name. Why I have been doing all this for other people for so LONG when I could have been doing the things that made ME happy?”
And THAT is the question that brings these women to the Pleasure Principle.
The Pleasure Principle
The Pleasure Principle is a principle for life that tells you to move towards the things that give you pleasure, rather than away from the things you don’t want.
Some women don’t want to end up old and single, so they do everything they can to look young and get a man. They’re running away from what they fear.
Other women want to enjoy life on their own terms, so they take really good care of their bodies and they go out and find companions to have fun with. They’re running towards what makes them happy.
As I say in my book, there’s only one path that will make you happy, and you can guess which one it is!
I did an interview years back with a wonderful woman named Xanet Pailet who had her sexual awakening in her 50s after leaving her marriage.
Xanet is living embodiment of the truth that age gives us power.
- Power to say no to a life that was always about other people and never about us.
- Power to explore ideas and experiences that might have frightened us away when we were younger.
- The power of having nothing left to lose.
Hit the Wall, Climb Higher
There’s a particular group of nasty guys on the internet that talk about women “hitting a wall.”
By that, they mean that these women are no longer attractive to men because of their age. That’s supposedly this “terrible” thing. Like, what will women DO with themselves once men no longer desire them? 😉
I don’t think that’s it at ALL.
I think “the wall” is when women realize they don’t NEED a man anymore...
And it scares the pants off a certain kind of man (who expects women to know their place).
Women never stop enjoying male companionship. They savor that delicious male energy. They adore having a playmate. But they don’t NEED it.
That’s a crucial distinction.
When you are in your 20s and you want the house and baby and nuclear family, then you need a man to partner with for that stage in your life.
But there comes a point where you don’t need a man to have a family with. You may already have children from a previous relationship.
You know that relationships and marriage can harm just as much as they help. You’ve seen it so many times.
You think to yourself:
When I am in a relationship, I put aside my needs to focus on others, and maybe that’s not what I want anymore. Maybe I want something different.”
To me, this is such an exciting time in a woman’s life.
It’s the time when the Pleasure Principle can come into play.
Ready to Embrace Your Power?
I would like you to see aging as stepping into your power.
The power young women have is the power of their bodies to turn men on. And for those young women with bodies that don’t fit social norms, they don’t always get to enjoy even that.
But the power of mature women is extraordinary and complex.
It’s the power of wisdom. It’s the power of life experience. It’s the power of independence. It’s the power to hold everyone up, because you’ve been doing it all your life.
You are like Atlas; you’ve been holding the world on your shoulders.
Beautiful young things would collapse under that weight.
Maybe it’s time to set those burdens down…
To stop letting everyone ride for free on your shoulders…
And trust that the world can take care of itself without you for a while.
What do you want out of life?
What do you want for yourself?
What haven’t you been giving yourself?
Your happiness U-curve is bending upwards. Despite all the bad things people told you about aging, life feels pretty good.
You can speak your mind. You can say no without guilt. You can put yourself first.
And you don’t have to be the good girl anymore. 🙂
Let us know what you think!