People often view the second half of life as a decline as they reluctantly surrender some abilities. More properly, says Arthur Brooks, later life should be a time of swapping skills from the “first curve” of life. He suggests swapping innovating, for example, for synthesizing, teaching and sharing. In The Psychology Podcast hosted by Scott Barry Kaufman, Brooks – drawing from his book From Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life – describes his transition from creator to sage. He encourages those who are getting older to abandon the “hedonic treadmill” of seeking success for a transcendent life of loving, giving and worshipping the divine.
- As people age, their skills shift from creating and innovating to synthesizing and teaching.
- Embrace and cultivate this transition to find fulfillment in the “second curve” of life.
- Loving people and worshipping the divine bring happiness.
- The second curve reward system leads to contented aging.
As people age, their skills shift from creating and innovating to synthesizing and teaching.
Successful people find reward in doing challenging things well. This can place them on a “hedonic treadmill” where, as an addict needs the next hit of a drug, they need the next hit of success.
But as people age, they become less adept than they were in their youth and become less satisfied with how they perform. Their strengths shift from “fluid intelligence” — creating value through innovation — to “crystallized intelligence” — synthesizing, instructing and sharing.
Embrace and cultivate this transition to find fulfillment in the “second curve” of life.
To succeed in later life, accept the lessening of your professional skills and let go of any attachment to prestige. Redefine success to center on the skills and intelligences that emerge later in life. Shift your focus to other people and to the transcendent. This kind of success calls for living in the present rather than relentlessly pursuing the future and for applying your inspiration to generating real value.
“I know the party’s going to stop — and then what?”
Vedic spirituality divides a good life into four phases: student, householder, transcendence and enlightenment. To transition to the fourth phase, acknowledge the need to enter a time of liminality, moving on from previous reward generators, and focusing on contemplating, thinking, praying, reading and providing meaningful service to the next generation.
The second curve of life needn’t be downward. It can and should be another upward curve of new, age-appropriate activities and rewards.
Loving people and worshipping the divine bring happiness.
True happiness doesn’t come from feeling special; it comes from enjoyment, satisfaction, humor and purpose, even if that purpose necessarily involves discomfort. Older people can find motivation in values rather than extrinsic rewards — in the “why” rather than the “what.”
A long-term Harvard study shows that happiness derives from loving others. Society pressures you to love things, use people and worship yourself. Genuine happiness comes from loving other people, using things and worshipping the divine.
“People who have the most love have the most happiness.”
Recognize that love is not a feeling, but a choice — choosing to nourish that which helps and sustains others.Worship is an advanced form of love directed toward something greater than yourself.
The second curve reward system leads to contented aging.
Focusing on the transcendent means moving toward enlightenment. That won’t obviate your “dark side,” but it will help you reject darkness as you glorify a higher purpose. Work continually to be the best person you can be.
Choosing to “retire to the forest,” that is, making the transition from extrinsic rewards to transcendence, involves the discomfort of leaving familiar goals and leaping into the unknown. Doing this proactively can take you from addiction to success to freedom from it. Thus, you can grow in fulfillment in the second half of your life.
About the Speakers
Arthur Brooks is a professor of public leadership and management practice at Harvard University and the former president of the American Enterprise Institute. His books include his newest bestseller, From Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness, and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life, as well as Build the Life You Want: The Art and Science of Getting Happier; The Road to Freedom: How to Win the Fight for Free Enterprise, and more.