How to Be Happier as an Adult: Mid-Life Crisis Explained

Tip #1: How to Be Happier with Balance

The ages of 30-50 are the most unhappy periods of our lives. The Gallup Global Happiness Center is the origin of the data used to recreate the image above, commonly called the U Shaped Happiness Curve.

During the middle ages, we teeter-totter with how we spend our time. We bounce between earning enough to live our desired lifestyles and spending quality time with friends and family.

Striving for professional success often means more time away from home, a math problem that doesn’t always add up to make us happier. Studies have shown that when an individual’s basic needs are met, the additional income related to our happiness is weak.

Tip #2: Happiness and Financial Health

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau created this free interactive tool to assess your financial well-being (financial health), and they define financial well-being as follows:

Being financially healthy is easier said than done, particularly as our financial world becomes more complex and when you manage money with a partner. The stakes are high. Couples who disagree about financial matters are twice as likely to divorce as those who don’t, so I am creating a series of online courses devoted to helping partners manage money together.

A good place to start to become more financially healthy is our 10 part budgeting series.

Tip 3: Stay away from the Joneses. They make you miserable.

When people are not content with life, they can feel unhappy about being unhappy, which is the beginning of a downward spiral. We tend to compare ourselves to our peers. Our career successes, the homes we live in, and the cars we drive. These are rat races that none of the participants win. There is strong evidence that materialism and marriage quality are at odds, even when spouses are aligned in their value systems.

Remember that some differences could originate from spouses from different class backgrounds. As shared by Dr. Streib in our Modern Husbands podcast episode Opposites Attract, folks from working-class backgrounds are more likely to outwardly display wealth because, subconsciously, it is how they’ve proven they’ve made it.

Tip #4: How to Be Happier by Focusing on Your Marriage

Most people who get married and stay married are more satisfied with their lives than their non-married peers long before the marriage occurs. As decades have passed, married couples’ challenges in managing the home have become more complicated. “Stay-at-home moms” are now far from the norm. Families are full of dual-income earners, and as the gender pay gap has been rightfully narrowing, it is becoming more common for women to be the breadwinners at home.

An ever-increasing number of dual-income homes where both partners are professionally ambitious has changed the calculus of career choices. The days of men being the only spouse making these choices are over, and pragmatism looks different now. Sometimes your best career choice is to support your spouse’s career ambitions. According to developmental psychologist Erik Erikson, we must focus on what age gives us, not what it has taken away. Modern Husbands make conscious choices to support the professional ambitions of their partners.

Modern Husbands are devoted to their working spouses. We work in tandem to support our spouses’ career ambitions and their professional talents by reducing or eliminating the second shift burden often shouldered by women. We lead or have a hand in managing our home and money; our most important job is ensuring our spouses succeed in theirs.

Tip #5: How to be Happier Together

Robert Waldinger is the director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, one of the world’s longest studies of adult life. They found that relationships and how happy we are in our relationships have a powerful influence on our health. “Taking care of your body is important, but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care too.” Dr. John Barry at University College London surveyed 5,000 men to identify American men’s values and priorities and the factors contributing to their emotional, physical, and mental health and well-being. Like Dr. Waldinger’s findings, men who value friendship, family, sports, and leisure have greater well-being. So don’t feel guilty about taking the time to play in the Wednesday night sports league and having a beer with your buddies after the game.

Loneliness kills. It’s as powerful as smoking or alcoholism.

— Robert Waldinger


Tip 6: How to Be Happier by Caring for Yourself

Health – both physical and mental – was the second-highest predictor of positivity across the US (interestingly, in the UK, it was in a stable relationship: the more committed the man, the happier he typically is). Perhaps surprisingly, grooming – taking care of our appearance – was the most vital driver of positivity. Across every age group, American men placed greater importance on their mental health than even their physical health.

The Spousal Relative Income and Male Psychological Distress study examined 6,000 American heterosexual married couples over 15 years to see how this shift has impacted people’s physical and mental health, life satisfaction, and relationships. Male psychological distress is at its lowest when wives make 40% of total household income and then increases to reach the highest level when men are entirely economically dependent on their wives, but there is a caveat. The relationship between a wife’s relative income and a husband’s psychological distress is not found among couples where wives out-earn their husbands at the beginning of their marriage. But more is needed to help men who have changed their roles in the household.

I asked Paul Sullivan, the founder of The Company of Dads and a Modern Husband Board Member, if he has experienced men having a tough transition to a new role in the home. He shared a brief vignette that summed it up. A close acquaintance asked Paul about what he’s doing with the Company of Dads and shared that he is not the breadwinner and is what Paul calls the Lead Dad. He loved his role and was on board with what Paul told him but told Paul to “not tell anyone.” Paul believes that this stems from society equating money with masculinity.

The full interview is below.

Previously Published on Modern Husbands
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