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Life ReimaginedReview - Life Reimagined
The Science, Art, and Opportunity of Midlife
by Barbara Bradley Hagerty
Riverhead Books, 2016
Review by Lynne Trevisan, D. C.
Sep 20th 2016 (Volume 20, Issue 38)

The book begins with the author describing what it felt like to have a heart attack scare, with her father's passing the night the author was in the hospital with that heart attack scare.  It is a poignant moment and sets a nice tone to the rest of the book, clearly showing how the passing of the last person in the eldest generation of a family changes the way the next generation perceives their own mortality.  In the first chapter, Bradley Hagerty talks about three major themes for midlife: being actively engaged in meaningful activities, focusing on purposeful actions and long-term goals, and how one thinks about what happens in life shapes the person's future.  Meaningful and purposeful activities and goals are seemingly self-explanatory, but these are not always so easy to accomplish.  Midlife is a time to reflect on what we do and how what we do positively impacts others' lives every day.  When we participate in meaningful and purposeful activities, our own lives are more robust.  We have a reason for getting up and moving every day, which greatly contributes to overall happiness.  Bradley Hagerty discusses how living in the moment and appreciating the snapshot moments contribute to a shift in focus to the positive moments in life.

Bradley Hagerty talks about the myth of midlife crisis.  Researchers have shown evidence of midlife crisis and what that constitutes, while other researchers suggest that midlife crisis are more what happens to the person, rather than a true crisis of internal angst.  She shares details that describe what she believes a midlife crisis really is, such as grieving for what is gone in life, along with anguish about their current lives, and dread for the future. Midlife often sees tragedies such as "death of a spouse, a best friend, a parent, even, tragically, a child...[the loss of] something precious: a long marriage, a cherished career, a vitality felled by cancer or stroke" (p. 24).  At the same time, normal changes related to aging that are handled with humor are easier to accept.  When the people focus on time with loved ones and less on making money, or who made deliberate changes to make their lives better, felt like their lives were of better quality. Along with this focus, identifying the people and items of value in one's life help people move through the challenges that come with midlife years.

 With aging comes changes in the way our brains function.  Bradley Hagerty talks about hearing loss as a factor in how the brain operates, and that it takes a loss of 25 decibels to realize there is a hearing loss (p. 66).  Even though the synapses slow with age, other aspects of knowledge assist older learners.  There are examples of how life and work experiences help older learners avoid danger and accidents.  The book covers methods of avoiding dementia, particularly in the middle years, by working at complex jobs.  When the brain is used to solve difficult tasks, this strengthens the brain function.  Exercise and food choices also play a role.  Taking a walk every day, and eating a healthy diet – avoiding deep-fried foods and high sugar diets – also impact long-term brain function.  "Reading, playing music, playing board games, and engaging in other stimulating activities" can help delay or fully stave-off dementia (p. 77). In short, continually using your brain will make it continue to work for you.  Strong friendships and partnerships also play a role in how people react to danger and stress. When two people are in a deeply trusting relationship, stress and dangers are handled with greater ease because the brain knows the skills and knowledge of the friend or partner will aid in overcoming the situation.  People without friends and at least one close partner likely die sooner than those with friends. "Loneliness changes the immune system…feeling isolated turns on genes for inflammation….and puts the brakes on genes that stop inflammation" (p. 111). 

Bradley Hagert tackles mid-life marriage and addresses how to keep marriages interesting and strong.  It is easy to settle into what is comfortable – repeatedly.  Adding activities that are novel, which involve both people, and are enjoyable by both people, will help keep interest in the marriage.  That said, there are many expectations of marriages that are nearly unattainable.  The gender roles and responsibilities are still present in some cases, while in others, the roles are far different than they were 100 years ago.  One of the greatest predictors for successful marriage is compatibility and adaptability.  Compatibility is obvious: the ability to be respectful of each other, even when disagreements occur, is a key factor in any marriage.  Adaptability is the ability to take life changes in stride and discover new ways of coping with those changes, together as a couple.  Socializing with other couples contributes to a happier marriage as well.  Bradley Hagert also covers problems that predict failure of a marriage in Chapter 6.  Boredom, lack of investment in each other, lack of respect…..these are the primary contributions for midlife divorce, according to Bradley Hagerty.

One of the good things about midlife is the ability to be resilient when bad things happen in life.  Accidents, disease, job loss, the end of relationships, children leaving the home to live independently…all are major changes in a person's life.  Experience and knowledge help a person in midlife cope with these changes through resilience.  A strong social network also contributes to resilience.

In Chapter 8, Bradley Hagerty covers the benefits of volunteering and how this contributes to happiness in one's life.  Using skills to serve others who are in need often fulfills the need for meaningful life experiences.  Finding moments of disruption of one's trajectory can also contribute to more meaningful experiences and work.  Realizing the career that has been followed for years may be filled with boredom, and finding triggers for change.  Further, waiting for change to happen is more difficult than being proactive.  "[Change] should be careful considered and grounded in reality" (p. 325).  Finding a new purpose for the skills and abilities leads to more meaningful experiences.

Ultimately, a meaningful and interesting life is done through intention.  Changes can be small or big, but any activity that is done with focus, presence and intention can bring about meaningful experiences and overall happiness in life.

I found the book to be an interesting read.  Turning 50 years old at the beginning of the year, the details shared in the book are timely.  Bradley Hagerty gives examples of how others have moved through the midlife journey and come out better for having traveled the path of gentle and proactive change. 

 

© 2016 Lynne Trevisan

 

Lynne Trevisan, D. C., Assistant Professor, College of Health, Human Services, and Sciences, Ashford University


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