This past fall I embarked on “Ride Of Your Life” – a 6000 mile solo motorcycle trip from New York to California, and a personal journey to inner peace. I rode through the thin veins of the map, the back roads that pump America’s life-blood from coast to coast, off the interstates. On My journey, I met with behavioral scientists, researchers and thought-leaders, and spoke with hundreds of people in motels, diners, parking lots, and gas stations.  Each of them provided me with a new perspective and fresh food for thought. Every day, I would ride for five or six hours and let the quiet wisdom of the road melt it all in. I went on the road for a midlife trip across the country and discovered an empathetic country going through midlife issues itself.

America’s days as a passionate young adult are over. In the past 60 years it has grown from a kicking adolescent to a mature and respectable grown-up. Now, at its prime, it is suddenly feeling malaise. Things are no longer what they used to seem. It all used to be simple and now it is complicated. There are too much obligations and not enough fun. America today, is uncomfortable. Think about 9/11, the wars in Afghanistan and then Iraq, the chain of recessions followed by the global financial crisis. Think about the frequent and extreme shifts of the presidential and midterm elections. Think about your health and how much it costs you, and think about the way you spend your money today. It all adds up to being very uncomfortable.

But this may be a good thing.

Behavioral sciences experts agree that being comfortable for too long corrodes one’s natural ambition, desire, and zest. In contrary, the restlessness of midlife is what fuels the renaissance of a person as a mensch [1], and the reintroduction of zest into life. Our lack of comfort could be an indication that we are on the verge of a great positive change. Just like people who go through a midlife crisis, we can emerge from this transition evolved and better if we take some action instead of ruminating on the glory days of our country’s youth.

On my ride’s third day I met with Caroline Miller, a leading positive-psychology coach and best-selling author. Caroline uses research on the human quality of zest to get her clients unstuck and out of a state of a “reactive rut”. When working with clients going through a midlife transition she tries go reawaken their enthusiasm. According to Carolyn, zest is found in abundance in children but wares off over the years. It is defined as “keen enjoyment”, the ability to just go for stuff with a leap of faith and soak up every good thing about the experience without hesitation. America has lost its zest and the ability to take a leap of faith and fly men to the moon. I believe this is our time to take the biggest risks and embark on inspiring, big projects. Morale is not a luxury. People need to feel inspired by their country to be motivated to go out and do stuff themselves. We should start working on the expedition to Mars, pronto.

Phil Zimbardo is one of the main figures who have shaped the science and practice of psychology over the past five decades. I met with him in San Francisco, after crossing the entire country. Phil says that more than often people feel lonely in midlife. Midlife is the time when people lose contact with their college and high-school friends and need to form new relationships. We too, are losing our childhood allies and need to build new relationships. The guys who looked like our sheer enemies when we were younger may become our new friends. Take Egypt is for example. The Arab world is split between forces pulling it back to the violent dark days of religious war and forces pushing towards the bright future of peace, education, and trade. Egypt is the leader of this moderate stream. A country that in the 60s was clearly considered a major axis of evil.

Sonja Lyubomirsky, a leading positive psychologist and the author of the book The How Of Happiness, says that midlife is also the time when people start having deep regrets and think about their “lost possible selves” [2] – the missed opportunities that are not likely to return. I met with Sonja a day before returning home to my family. After five weeks on the road I felt at peace with myself and could easily resonate with what she said. The healthy thing to do is at this age is to accept that some past opportunities are gone and to let them go. The high-school crush is long married, that job offer from20 years ago is now long gone. We need to do that too. As a young adult, America dreamed big and when you dream big you are bound to experience some failure. Our dream of a broad middle class has resulted in a thick layer of poverty, and our dream of spreading the values of liberty and democracy to the world has also resulted in aggression and war. Perhaps we should seek more “age-appropriate” ways to continue our pursuit of abundance for all and a liberated world.

Like anyone experiencing the perplexity of midlife, we need to accept that we have come of a certain age, let go of lost opportunities, make new friends, and revive the zest of our magical childhood as a country. All we have to do is forget about who America was and start thinking about who America will be.

Studies on human happiness show that people emerge from their midlife crises happier and that happiness peaks around the age of 60. Midlife transition is painful but leads to an improved life experience, one that is more mature, open, and fulfilling. Other countries may look at us and feel bewildered as we go through our midlife deliberations. They are either too young to understand or too old to remember. I believe that America will soon emerge from her midlife malaise settled and sound, ready for the ride of her life.

[2] The Princeton dictionary defined Mensch as “a decent responsible person with admirable characteristics”. The origin of the word is in the Yiddish language.

[1] Laura A. King, Hoshua A. Hicks, “Lost and found possible selves: Goals, development, and well-being” New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, Volume 2007, Issue 114, pages 27–37, Summer 2007

Post Tags