How to Thrive at Middle Age
Blog post number 365—reflections on Darwin's subterranean world.
Posted Jul 29, 2020
When my good friend Kaja Perina asked me to blog for Psychology Today back in 2012, I was both flattered and ambivalent. I run my life at a pretty busy pace—and I remember having all kinds of obligations on my plate at the time. Family, work, mowing the lawn, shoveling the driveway, extra-curriculars (e.g., I'm in the band Questionable Authorities), etc.
But I have to say, with Kaja's encouragement, I figured I'd give it a go. Thank goodness for that. This is my 365th blog post for Psychology Today—making my body of work here, literally, a full year's worth of posts (written across seven years). The fact that I have produced so much for my Psych Today blog, Darwin's Subterranean World, tells me that I must really enjoy this and really get a lot out of it. Social psychologists call this self-perception theory (see Bem, 1967), when we make inferences about our own internal states based on our own actions. If I'm producing this much content for my Psych Today blog, I must love doing it!
I recently turned 50. As I often tell people, that rounds up to 100, in case you're counting. I definitely am feeling, experience-wise, like middle-age is staring me right in the face. Fifty is a time to reflect on all kinds of things. Family, career, future goals, relationships, etc.
I have to say that while I think I've done OK, my path to middle age has hardly been perfect. Here, using guidance from my own posts, I summarize tidbits of advice on how to thrive at middle age.
Advice on How to Thrive in Middle Age
Make a point to get into nature. For the lion's share of human evolutionary history, humans have lived embedded in the natural world. Plant life, animal life, clouds, stars, the moon, etc. We evolved to exist within nature. Make a point to embrace and go out into nature each and every day. You will not be sorry to make this choice. (July 23, 2013)
Apologize if you've messed up. Look, we're all imperfect. That's OK. It's just how it is. Apologizing after you've transgressed or made a mistake goes a long way in helping people stay connected. It's a long road. You don't want to alienate people in your world if you can help it. Genuine apologies go a long way. (March 20, 2014)
Live a healthy lifestyle. Your body and your mind are, at the end of the day, critically and permanently interconnected. If you want to find health in mind and spirit, a healthy body is essential. And if you want a healthy body, eat natural foods and exercise a lot. It is not more complicated than that. (August 5, 2014)
Don't be afraid of failure. The most successful people in the world are also the people who have seen the most failure. Don't be afraid to put yourself out there and try in all of your efforts. And if you find yourself not getting the job or having your paper rejected or ... just smile at the rain and try again tomorrow. We are only here once. (September 5, 2014)
Focus more on helping the next generation develop than on judging. In the field of teaching, there are two basic approaches one can take. A teacher can focus on developing each and every student, meeting them where they are, or a teacher can focus on assessment, putting his or her energy into documenting students' academic success. Life is too short, I'd say, to put assessment as front and center. Let's work to cultivate the next generation. At the end of the day, they're all we've got. (December 19, 2014)
Don't give up. Don't ever give up. Jimmy Valvano's words, given at an award ceremony when the larger-than-life college basketball coach gave a speech with a body riddled with cancer, ring true for all of us. You never know what is up ahead. And your best efforts will get you far. (March 4, 2015)
There is no substitute for hard work. At the end of the day, things like talent and intelligence are all well and good. But hard work has the capacity to supersede it all. If you have taken an honest and all-out approach to your work, you will never feel like you could have done more. (June 20, 2015)
Take the high road in life. There are multiple paths to success. Some people succeed by looking out for others and expending energy to help those around them. Others succeed by intimidating those in their circles. Both paths can lead to success. But only one is truly the high road. (August 16, 2015)
Be thankful. Gratitude benefits all parties and it is free. Humans evolved to appreciate expressions of gratitude for a broad host of reasons. Plus, think about it, the fact that we are here at all is kind of a cosmic accident. We are lucky to be here at all. (November 23, 2015)
Strive for forgiveness. By the time you hit middle age, you will have seen all kinds of transgressions and betrayals. This is nearly a guarantee. And this fact makes life hard. In such a context, forgiveness truly goes a long way toward maintaining critical social bonds across the lifespan. (December 29, 2015)
Hold off from black-and-white thinking. The world is complex. And people are complex. A nuanced understanding of the world and of the people in it goes a long way toward truly getting and appreciating the world around you.
Expect great things in your life. While the American dream is more accessible to some people than to others, at the end of the day, you have the capacity for greatness in life. Don't sell yourself short. And always remember that the sky is the limit. (January 21, 2016)
Giving of yourself to help others is a hallmark of a rich life. Humans evolved to be prosocial in a variety of contexts. At the end of the day, selflessness supersedes selfishness. Always. (March 17, 2016)
Strive for humility. At the end of the day, we've all got a ticket on the same ride here. Appreciating others and being humble goes a long way to cultivating a richer life for yourself and for those around you. (May 18, 2016)
Realize and appreciate, in all domains of life, that human behavior is the result of multiple causes. It is rare that a single cause explains why anyone does anything. This insight, related to the concept of multi-factorial causation, goes a long way to helping us understand the people in our world. (June 14, 2016)
All humans evolved from the same common ancestor. And this fact is really an asterisk to the fact that all life on earth evolved from the same common ancestor. What idea could be more grand than this? (September 10, 2016)
Love is the answer. Humans evolved an extraordinary capacity for love of all kinds. Love has the potential to bring people together and keep them in connected and supportive relationships that can last a lifetime. (December 21, 2016)
Avoid the ad hominem attack; attack arguments, not people. In a world that is infused with ideological polarization all over the place, it's important that people argue against ideas rather than against people. This is a core principle of civil communication. And it is simply good practice in dealing with people as you march forward in life. (March 10, 2017)
Embrace human universality as much as you embrace human diversity. Human diversity is a beautiful thing and it warrants our fullest attention. But let's not forget the fact that humans are, at the end of the day, riddled with characteristics that are shared across all of us. Human universals connect us all together in a profound way. Let's make a point to never forget this fact. (May 30, 2018)
Saying yes is usually better than saying no. At some point, you'll find yourself in a position of power over others. Some leaders are biased toward saying no and being rejecting in their approaches. Others default to try to say yes, supporting others' ideas and endeavors. While there is certainly a time and place for saying no, saying yes and taking a supportive approach to other people really can lead to all kinds of beautiful outcomes. (September 28, 2018)
Be wary of technology. Modern technology, such as social media and cell phones, has both pros and cons. While the benefits of such technologies tend to be obvious, there are several downsides that may seem less obvious, such as the adverse consequences associated with deindividuated communication that often takes place on social media platforms. We need to think carefully about modern, unnatural forms of communication. We need to think about the human side of things. (July 26, 2019)
Heed the advice of your elders. Experience is the greatest teacher. And elders, regardless of their educational backgrounds, have wisdom to share with us. Always. When people from past generations give advice about such things as parenting, family, money, business, education, etc., I have one piece of advice for you, and it is this: Listen up. (January 30, 2020)
Cultivate a reputation as someone who can be trusted. And avoid betraying others' trust. In human groups, betrayal can have highly destructive and long-lasting consequences. Humans evolved the capacity to forgive, but only under very tenuous and nuanced circumstances. If you want a healthy social world for you and your family, avoid betraying others in your world. (January 14, 2020)
Strive for communal rather than exchange relationships. In relationships with others, there are two basic approaches. We can take an exchange approach, in which we count who has done what and who owes the other what. Or we can take a communal relationship, in which we do for the other out of a spirit of love, and we don't take a tally of who has done what. In close relationships, generally, the communal approach leads to better outcomes. (February 19, 2020)
So here it is, my 365th post in Darwin's Subterranean World. A year's worth of posts (written across seven years). I have to say that writing this blog has been a true highlight of my career.
At 50, I feel like I've seen a lot in life and have been glad to be able to share observations and pieces of guidance in this space. During the writing of this blog, I've published several books, including Evolutionary Psychology 101, Own Your Psychology Major: A Guide to Student Success, and (with Nicole Wedberg) Positive Evolutionary Psychology: Darwin's Guide to Living a Richer Life. Between these books and this blog, I have worked to provide as much guidance and thought to hopefully help others as I can based on my experiences and academic background.
I appreciate very much the readers of this blog. I hope my work has helped to make some positive dent in the worlds of even a few. And in case you are wondering, I do not plan to stop any time soon.
With love and gratitude, Glenn
Bem, D. J. (1967). Self-Perception: An Alternative Interpretation of Cognitive Dissonance Phenomena. Psychological Review, 74, 183-200.