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Where Have All the Good Times Gone? Why Boomers Are So Miserable

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Well, once we had an easy ride and always felt the same
Time was on our side and I had everything to gain
Let it be like yesterday
Please let me have happy days
Won't you tell me
Where have all the good times gone?

Ray Davies / Kinks

Growing up in the 70s my parents and my friends' parents seemed content and settled with their quotidian lives. To my teenage eyes, their lives seemed dull and predictable, but secure and happy in their own way. They were mostly paired up, had nice homes, traveled, had good jobs until retirement, and then enjoyed generous pensions that would see them to the end of their days. This is not the case for those over fifty today. What I see now are Boomers leading quiet lives of desperation heading into retirement.

Happiness?
Studies indicate that our happiness index is highest when we are young, takes a dip when we start working full-time and begin raising families, then rises again when we hit 50, whether we have kids or not. Although I subscribe to positive psychology and follow happiness research with interest, they got this one wrong. I don't believe in hiding my head in the sand and ignoring what I see out there. Based on what I see, hear and read, I don't believe this U-curve of happiness is true any more.

Depression
Yes, there are Boomers who are happy, content, and secure but they are increasingly an anomaly. The trend is going in the opposite direction. Last I checked, happiness doesn't include depression.

Almost 23 percent of women ages 40 to 59 take antidepressants, by far the largest consumer cohort on antidepressants. There is trouble in paradise. Men in the same age bracket would be right up there were it not for denial of their symptoms. The figures for women 60 and over are not much more encouraging. It makes me wonder about the validity of happiness studies if close to one in four is jazzed on SSRIs.

Gray Divorce
Although the divorce rate is slowly dropping, half of all marriages end in divorce. Studies show that divorce is increasingly common for couples in their 50s and 60s. In 2010, one in four divorces occurred among those 50 and older, a steep increase from 2000. The consequence of ending a marriage is much more drastic for those over 50 than for those under 45. Apart from being financially destabilizing, the chance of finding another partner grows increasingly remote as we age and settle into patterns of living alone. Hence, the percentage of Boomers who live alone is growing rapidly. Living alone is all well and good when it is a choice, but data indicates that it isn't a choice for many. Living alone is more expensive, lonelier and a less healthy option than cohabitating.

Economic Downturn
As the Boomer bulge snakes through the demographic python we are much less lucky than our parents who worked at meaningful jobs until they retired. Middle manager Boomers lost out big time in the last two recessions. If Boomers are fortunate to still have a job they are likely to be overworked and stressed, doing the work of two. Those who have found other work often accept positions below their skill and pay levels. A record 62% of people between 55 and 64 are engaged in the work force, up from ten years ago. They work because they have to. The wealthy are not exempt either. Some of the most miserable people I've ever met have more money than god.

Retirement Worries
Much Boomer angst has to do with retirement income. The 2008 economic meltdown slashed Boomer savings and low interest rates and inflation have gutted retirement income. Governments around the world have been sounding the alarm for years that they are going to have trouble supporting Boomer generation in retirement. They tell Boomers they should have a plan. For some, especially men, suicide is a growing option. The rate of suicide for men between the ages of 50 and 59 has alarmingly increased almost 50 percent in the last ten years. More shockingly, the rate for women ages 60 to 64 has jumped 59 percent. Much of the blame for this is social dislocation and bad economic times.

These factors exacerbate the other more mundane pressures of the sandwich generation that supports children who failed to launch and caring for elderly parents. Middle age is when chronic health problems begin to emerge. Witness the explosion in the rates of obesity, diabetes, cancer and other diseases that begin to manifest after your forties. It's a very grim picture and one we should all care about. Boomers are by and large a challenged generation at this stage in life.

I'm willing to bet that the 2008 downturn, the escalating divorce rate and financial insecurity have made the Boomers an unhappy bunch. Part of their problem is having high expectations. Boomers are known for reinventing what it meant to be adolescent and practically everything they touched. In many ways they had a pretty good ride, getting great jobs, buying affordable houses, and the music was awesome. But they had better get to work on re-imagining what it means to be a senior. My adolescent image of retirement, however dull and predictable it seemed at the time is starting to look really good.

We all face challenges in life and Boomers are seriously being buffeted from all directions at once. It is possible to create more happiness in your life but it takes real work. Learning effective coping skills, knowing yourself, reframing things, staying positive, finding inner spirituality and a sense of purpose (whatever that means to you), and having realistic expectations makes you more resilient and better able to ride the turbulence. After all, as Maurice Chevalier said, "old age isn't so bad when you consider the alternative."

What do you think? I would appreciate your comments...