Saturday, February 19, 2011

Life after 46

A recent Economist article says that life begins at 46. Based on studies, 46 is the average age when people start feeling happy. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that most people at this stage have kids who finished college and leave home to seek their fortunes plus it’s the age were wisdom finally settles in. The line graph of a happiness index shows a downward trend starting in the 20’s until a bottom is reached at around age 46 and continually rises all the way to old age. At this point in one’s life, fear and anxiety don’t take too much of a person’s attention. Since coming here to the West one has felt that one feels more serene which I had attributed to the surrounding culture (i.e. less distractions, home by 8 pm, no Asian back stabbing, etc.).  But in fact, it’s not due to the new place but has biological or psychological explanations. It’s a good article that makes one think about one’s assumptions.

The article says that 2 dominant traits exist in people: neuroticism and extrovert. Neurotics are people who worry a lot and often unhappy. Extroverts are happy people with active social networks. Most people are a mix of both. One sees that one has been a neurotic most of one’s life perhaps driven by too much self-reflection and journal writing. The common answer to this trait is to see a psychiatrist so one’s mental churning can be regulated or guided by a professional. Another common answer perhaps is meditation and Yoga. This allows one to move towards being an extrovert by meeting people (i.e. gurus and therapists) as compared to staying alone in a room with one’s own thoughts. Joining group sessions like Toastmasters maybe another attempt towards being an extrovert. Group session like writing workshops and Toastmasters can be seen as attempts to be happy. Perhaps the happy index is working as one joins these sessions during his 40’s. No more fear and anxiety when meeting people.

One thinks that some cultures are predisposed to a certain trait. Perhaps Western culture is more towards extroverts with their sports culture and less self reflection. Eastern culture perhaps is more neurotic with their religion and beliefs like meditation. Striking a balance is needed as cultures try to learn from each other.  Moving to another country exactly when one turned 46 (give or take a few months) has been lucky because one would not be driven by self-doubt or anxiety as one usually would have. This was the problem one had when moving to Singapore at the age of 38 or 39 when the happy index was still moving down. Perhaps that explains one’s attempt to distract oneself through sports (tennis, golf, roller skating, biking and swimming), social activities (PMI meetings, museums, library and travel) and learning new things (guitar playing, visual thinking). There was truly a biological urge to fight stress driven by fear and anxiety.

Can one confirm that one is stressed? Premature balding is one sign and recent studies that show medicine that fights stress result in re-grown hair. One is glad that one has recognized this problem early on and the key to this fight is cognitive therapy. Reading the book ‘Managing Your Mind’ was a watershed and served the role as one’s psychiatrist. It has improved one’s thoughts and cognition and especially helped by visual thinking techniques to improve one’s clarity of thinking. It’s still an ongoing learning process that one must keep at all times. Life at the age of 46 is where everything comes together and one has to take advantage of this trend. Recognizing the internal changes that are going on as one grows old is the key. Exploiting that inner change is to one’s advantage especially exploiting the benefits offered by the new country with its extrovert leanings. Hence, attending Toastmaster meeting, writing workshops, going to library events are part of the upward curve in the happiness index.

Writing needs to become an extrovert exercise. This means working with groups, sharing ones work via attending the local library’s Scribbler sessions or writing workshops. The happiness index makes one more confident to try new things especially sharing one’s work with others and receiving feedback. In one’s personal lifetime, one did not have this fortuitous alignment of the stars until now. So one needs to move outward - from the internally driven writer’s angst that defined the romantic concept of a writer. It’s all about sharing, editing and following externally driven cues and attending workshops. It’s still going to be a difficult journey but one’s psychological makeup is positive with the upward curve of the happiness index. One must ride the curve upwards and exploit whatever advantages that may bring but not via reckless risk taking but a confident move bolstered by experience and inner happiness.


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