Discover more from Epic Retirement
A happiness slump in your 50s; soaring happiness in your 70s
The U curve of happiness and the shifting of our motives in midlife is something that frankly isn't talked about enough.
First, to all our new subscribers this week - thousands of you - welcome. Epic Retirement is a new independent newsletter that aligns with my book, How to Have an Epic Retirement - currently available in pre-order and in stores on 26th July. I cover a wide area of ground from pre-retirement and retirement planning into living your epic retirement. It spans the six pillars of a good retirement - time, financial confidence, health, happiness and fulfilment, travel and your home. Let’s get into today’s edition.
Are you 50 or over and finding your values and what drives your contentment shifting? Think you’ve peaked and your best personal growth and most exciting days are behind you? Worried you are heading into ageing or running out of time? Well that’s simply not true. But you might have to tell yourself more actively and adjust your perspective more consciously if you are pursuing an epic retirement. I would lay a bet that your best days are ahead of you - and you need to challenge yourself to enjoy more of the present, drive yourself to continue to set goals and be less frustrated at the past.
There’s a whole batch of scientific studies that show that our satisfaction in life follows a U-curve with our happiness being at its lowest in midlife. And another batch that explain how our perception of time in life changes our prioritisation of different things. And today, I’m going to give you a short look at both, and discuss what that might mean for how we find happiness in, and get the most out of our second half of life.
Time - the big number we make unconscious decisions with
Many of us will spend more than a quarter of our life retired. The average life expectancy in Australia is currently 85 for men and 88 for women, and expected to rise to 91 for men, and 93 for women by 2050. And recent data presented to parliament in the UK shows that people born after 1971 have a 50 percent chance of living to 100.
That means, if you are 55, or 60 or even 65 right now, you could have the best part of 30 or 35 years left. Not everyone lives as though this is the case. Lifespans have increased dramatically over the last 50-100 years as we have learned to treat and eliminate diseases. And our perceptions of time available in life to live out our goals may still be bound by previous generation’s stereotypes.
The perception of time left in life affects our goal setting and motivations
Now we have that perspective, let’s talk about how our perception of time changes our goals and motives in life - scientifically it's called the socioemotional selectivity theory. Heavy stuff right! Stay with me because once you understand the theory you can reason with yourself about it.
There is basically two different types of social motives we have as people, knowledge related motives and emotional motives. When we start out in life we consume knowledge voraciously, growing it relentlessly, sometimes at the cost of emotional satisfaction (You know it!). Over the course of our lives, as our knowledge accrues, we wonder internally at the relentless pursuit, and the future uses for it, and this may lead us to pursue it less or reprioritise subconsciously or consciously. The theory is that when the amount of time left in life is perceived as open-ended we prioritise our knowledge related goals keenly. And when the time left in our lives is perceived as limited we tend to prioritise emotionally meaningful goals and relationships higher. “Activities that are unpleasant or simply devoid of meaning are not compelling under conditions in which time is perceived as limited”.
The most interesting thing about this research, when you boil it down to one point is that young people consider the future the most potent time of their lives and set long term goals, older people consider the past as the most potent time of their lives and live for the present. Somewhere in the middle, we learn to live more in the present than in the future and this changes us and slows our setting of goals. The turning points can see us re-evaluate critical relationships, and re-prioritise our pursuits towards things that give us ‘feelings’. Interesting isn’t it!
The U curve of happiness
There’s another set of scientific theories that have studied how happy people feel over their lifetimes. Scientists ask people to score themselves on a big question. “How satisfied are you with your life? How does your life compare with the best possible life you could imagine for yourself?” This gives them a reading of your ‘evaluative happiness’. And this number is the one that they use to measure how happy people are over their lives.
Not surprisingly, contentment skyrockets in the early phases of our lives, often driven by ego, promotion and the rise up through our goals and achievements in life. It then plunges in mid-life, for a myriad of reasons, but mostly, when you dig below the surface, it seems things don’t always go to ‘plan’. Divorce, financial instability, and less goal setting and goal-achieving it seems. At this point, according to scientists, there’s a shift in what’s important in life - some call it a reorientation of our personal values away from ambition and toward connection with others and the desire to have more meaning in our lives. It turns, usually at close to 47.5 years of age in Australia, one of the happiest countries in the world. And then, in the second half of life it rises to the highest levels. Could it be that living for today brings us more joy? Or maybe not having as many hierarchical goals makes it more easy to be happy.
Now that people are living longer, this shift in midlife is an opportunity for us to transition, and to look for what will make us happier in the second half of our lives and set ourselves up for a whole new phase - rather than see it as the beginning of the slide into ageing.
And if you take it seriously, the reward is a soaring happiness curve in your 60s and beyond as you can see in this analysis of the World Gallup Polls by Graham and Pozuelo from the Brookings Institute.
Feeling it? What can you do?
If you feel the middle age slump of unhappiness, or a shift to your motives from climbing up the hierarchy to finding more purpose or ‘feeling’ - what can you do?
Awareness is the first valuable step. You can use this time of life to make powerful shifts to where you find your fulfilment and satisfaction in life. If you are conscious of the science of happiness, you can feel less like you are going through an unusual personal trough and recognise that this change is something felt by many but poorly communicated. Email me - I can point you to many interesting readings.
Interrupt your internal critics
One of the worst things we can do is listen to the little voice inside us that is looking at others and drawing social comparisons on what we should be doing at any age or looking back at the past and making judgements about any unsatisfactory performance against our goals. It is and always will be a self-defeating process. As you’ve seen in the science, the race to climb the hierarchy becomes moot in the second half of life as meaning, feelings and emotions matter more so start to consider what that will mean for you.
If you really read the question asked by scientists above about happiness you’ll realise it is a trap. If you constantly look back at your disappointments, or forward at your shortening lifespan you will find it hard to live for today. But we know that true happiness in the second half of life comes more from living in the present without judgement.
Be aware of the transitions
With greater awareness of these changes in your own emotions, you can take proactive steps to defy your internal voices and seek knowledge in midlife more actively, or transition into a career path or pursuits that will bring you greater emotional joy and greater social impact in your second half of life.
Have you got some thoughts on the U-curve of happiness or felt the shift in your life? Your honestly may help others. I’d love to hear from you over in the comments. And, make sure you like the story while you’re there.
Until next week - make it epic. Don’t forget to keep an eye out for my weekend column in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald Money Section.
Bec Wilson Xx
How much do retirees really live on?
My column in The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Brisbane Times went a little viral last weekend with more than 150,000 reads online alone and lots of discussion. Keep your eye out - I’ve got a follow up piece in the papers this week.
As retirement approaches, one of the biggest concerns people have is determining the amount of money they need to sustain a comfortable lifestyle throughout their later years.
Both pension-funded and self-funded retirees in Australia often wonder how much money they can realistically live on per year, while voyeuristically ogling each other in wonder.
So let’s explore the average retirement income for Australians and look at the different ways it can be calculated to give you some better insight into how the other half lives.
I also write a fortnightly newsletter about the industry of modern ageing and how things are changing out there in the world. Last week I published a piece on how we’ll all have to start monitoring our own health as a priority. Are you ready for this type of approach or perhaps already measuring? You can read this (or sign up) on our sister publication Epically.
The future of healthcare: your health, your responsibility
Understanding our risk factors, monitoring vital health indicators, and making informed lifestyle choices gives us the power to prevent and manage diseases in the second half of our lives.None of us like to admit it, but the second half of our lives is the part often marred by the discovery and management of disease and the worry and treatments associated. And through this process we are completely dependent on the health system. The GPs and the institutions in our health system are our key to detection and treatment and in Australia they do a very good job. But we are at a turning point and both the health system and the attitudes of individuals has to change. The greatest opportunity to create longer, better lives now lies in each of us taking more responsibility for our health, understanding our own risk factors as individuals, and monitoring ourselves more personally and more regularly. And that is not something ingrained in our culture among average over-50s or our health system ... yet.
Pre-order your copy of How to Have an Epic Retirement
I’m a little excited about the release of the book. I’ve signed off the final cover designs, approved the final manuscript and it’s now off to the printers.
This is the ultimate guidebook for people approaching and in retirement. I’ve spent months researching, interviewing and writing the book, and more than ten years understanding the issues people need more help navigating, as the Founder and former CEO of Starts at 60. And I’m so excited to finally release it into the public domain. It will hit bookstores on the 26th July. But you can pre-order now to get a copy as soon as it is released.
Finally, my Instagram is finding a life of its own, join me
There’s regular reels with insights about how to have an Epic Retirement, amusing little titbits and pretty soon - interviews too. If you haven’t already, follow Bec Wilson - Epic Retirement on Instagram and we’ll be able to have more leisurely conversations in a different style over there. Short, snappy and full of juicy titbits.
Shareable of the week - ‘We the elders’
Thanks for reading Epic Retirement! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
This piece was shared with me by someone in the Epic Retirement community. The author is anonymous. It is rather delightful.
We grew up in the 40s-50s-60s.
We studied in the 50s-60s-70s.
We dated in the 50s-60s-70s.
We got married and discovered the world in the 60s-70s-80s.
We ventured into the 70s-80s.
We stabilised in the 90s.
We got wiser in the 2000s.
And went firmly through the 2010s.
Turns out that many of us have already lived through NINE different decades. TWO different centuries. TWO different millennia.
We have gone from the telephone with an operator for long-distance calls to video calls to anywhere in the world, we have gone from slides to YouTube, from vinyl records to online music, from handwritten letters to email and WhatsApp. From live matches on the radio, to black and white TV, and then to HDTV. We went to Blockbuster and now we watch Netflix. We got to know the first computers, punch cards, diskettes and now we have gigabytes and megabytes in hand on our cell phones or iPads. We wore shorts throughout our childhood and then long pants, oxfords, Bermuda shorts, etc. We dodged infantile paralysis, meningitis, H1N1 flu and now COVID-19. We rode skates, tricycles, invented cars, bicycles, mopeds, gasoline or diesel cars and now we ride hybrids or 100% electric.
Yes, we've been through a lot but what a great life we've had! Our generation has literally lived through and witnessed more than any other in every dimension of life. It is our generation that has literally adapted to “CHANGE.”
TIME DOES NOT STOP! Life is a task that we do ourselves every day. When you look... it's already six in the afternoon; when you look... it's already Friday; when one looks... the month is over; when one looks... the year is over; when one looks... 50, 60, 70 and 80 years have passed!
When you look... we no longer know where our friends are.
When you look... we lost the love of our life and now, it's too late to go back.
Do not stop doing something you like due to lack of time.
Do not stop having someone by your side, because your children will soon not be yours, and you will have to do something with that remaining time, where the only thing that we are going to miss will be the space that can only be enjoyed with the usual friends. This time that, unfortunately, never returns.
The day is today! WE ARE NO LONGER AT AN AGE TO POSTPONE ANYTHING.
Share this newsletter - bring your friends
Sharing is caring! I ask you to share my weekly (How to have an) Epic Retirement Newsletter with some of your friends today and help them learn and live longer, healthier and better quality lives - it’s my goal to help you and there’s a lot of people out there right now who need a little more assistance and peerage on the journey into retirement.
Sponsor this newsletter
We are inviting select sponsors to help us do what we do in exchange for aligned and respectful advertising. If you’re interested, email us on firstname.lastname@example.org or message me on our new central website at epicretirement.com.au. We already reach almost 10,000 people weekly on our newsletter alone and with your help, it will grow fast.
Thanks for getting all this way - have an epic week ahead.
Key sources for main article:
Carstensen LL, Isaacowitz DM, Charles ST. Taking time seriously. A theory of socioemotional selectivity. Am Psychol. 1999 Mar;54(3):165-81. doi: 10.1037//0003-066x.54.3.165. PMID: 10199217.
Blanchflower, David & Oswald, Andrew. (2011). International Happiness: A New View on the Measure of Performance. Academy of Management Perspectives. 25. 6-22. 10.5465/AMP.2011.59198445.