A few years ago, when I turned forty, I was hi-fiving myself and walking with the sass and swagger of Beyoncé. I didn’t give a ‘you know what’ and felt a renewed sense of confidence and fearlessness. ‘Life begins at forty,’ they told me. ‘It’s all about the ‘naughty forties!’ they said. Firstly, it’s not that naughty. Secondly, life definitely changes in your forties – it may well be flipping awesome at times, but it can also give you some almighty kicks in the teeth. It’s a transformative time and you do feel more self-assured, however, I also think it’s one of the most challenging decades to go through. I don’t mean to rain on anyone’s parade, but sometimes being in your forties sucks.
It’s a time when many people face consuming and conflicting responsibilities. They may still have young kids to care and pay for as well as elderly/ sick parents to support. Many people will experience the loss of a parent and may have difficult family decisions to make. Financial responsibilities may rocket as most people will still have mortgages and high levels of expenditure. There may be job insecurity, health issues, divorce, the list is literally endless. With all of these challenges, comes a multitude of conflicting emotions; anxiety, grief, despair, stress and guilt. It’s a flipping minefield of a decade and will test us in every possible way.
Many of the people around me have lost their loved ones or are going through marriage breakdowns, both of which are major life-changing events, and yet when I discuss this with my friends, we all just shrug with a morbid stoicism and understanding that this is simply the stage of life we are at. It’s part and parcel of being in our forties.
It’s also interesting to note that there is research suggesting that happiness through adulthood is in fact U-shaped. Irrespective of external stress factors, the ‘happiness curve’ means life satisfaction begins to fall as we age, hitting a slump in our forties, and then picks up again in our fifties. It is essentially saying there is a natural slump in our forties, irrespective of any major life events or stresses, simply due to the passing of time. Marvellous! As if we need any more reason to think our forties are going to suck.
However (and here’s my silver lining), despite the many curve balls that we will face in this decade, be it in our personal relationships, family, work, finances or just the natural midlife slump, there will be growth and resilience. It’s a period of intense emotion and transformation, and all of these challenges help us evolve into more profound, compassionate and resilient beings.
So in conclusion, being in your forties doesn’t suck per se. But you are more likely to face a range of challenges in this decade that will definitely suck. The key is to realise there is also joy and gratitude to be found, and that through these midlife trials, you will grow and strengthen. In fact, you might even surprise yourself.