As a 40 year-old, the results of a survey by Relate that it is those aged 35 to 44 who are the most stressed and depressed was not exactly cheering. Apparently this sad state of affairs is the result of working too hard, not having enough money, not having enough sex and having too many family responsibilities. Somewhat perversely, it also seems to be the result of a few people getting promoted high up the corporate ladder while young, which leaves the rest of us feeling left behind and useless. As The Times put it, "if you are less than halfway up the greasy pole by 35, forget it." Or in other words, Ed Miliband being elected to lead the Labour Party aged 40 will cause a bunch of other 40-somethings (and maybe older brothers) to have nervous breakdowns in despair at their own ineptitude.
The Times also reports on how men of this age are seeking to defy their age by attending music festivals or taking up cycling. Having badly sprained my wrist while trying to cycle down some steps last week, I couldn't possibly comment.
But, speaking with the authority that my age gives me, I am not surprised that it is my peers who are so significantly disillusioned with life. Mine is the first generation that has really reaped the full harvest of the social changes inaugurated in the 60's; and I don't think it has done us any good. Consider some of those changes...
We are having children much later, so rather than having kids in, or approaching their teens by the time we turn 40, many of my peers (like Ed) are just in the nappy stage. The sad reality is that a 40 year-old does not have the same physical energy as a 25 year-old, which is why biologically speaking it makes more sense to have babies when you are in your 20's.
We have the psychological anxiety caused by the assumption that relationships will not last. Many of us are not actually married, even if in 'stable' relationships, or a 'very close unit' as Ed describes his relationship with girlfriend Justine. Even if not consciously aware of it, the subconscious expectation that relationships fail adds a psychological burden our forefathers did not share. So many of the parents of friends of my children spend their weekends shuttling children around various ex-partners - it must be exhausting (and that's not even considering the impact on the children of course).
We all work. We have fallen for the myth that it works to both work, and we have geared our economy so that both partners need to work. But this doesn't work.
We do work that doesn't produce anything tangible, and that is ultimately unsatisfying. It is the reason that so many men (particularly men) get to their 40's and decide what they would really like to do is disappear into the woods and make 'things', or decide they want to become property developers. All this frenetic activity that in the end only seems to be moving paper or rearranging spreadsheets doesn't meet our need to create.
We have completely bought the lies of youth culture - it is much more tiring to keep trying to be young than simply to age gracefully.
We have turned our leisure into work - expensive weekends away, expensive hobbies, all involving considerable planning and emotional investment and competitively pursued leave us feeling more tired than our work does.
We have become too integrated with technology, but it leaves us wrung out. Constant toggling from application to application and device to device leaves us with the inability to concentrate on any one thing properly and suffering permanent neural burn.
We have become stooges of the advertising industry. We have come to believe that we really should have whatever we want whenever we want it; that life should always be easy; that sex should always be exotic and earth moving - and we are very disappointed that life is not really like that.
Is there any hope for us? Yes there is - we just need to grow up.
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