Life Reimagined:The Science, Art, and Opportunity of Midlife by Barbara Bradley Hagerty
I came across this book in e-audiobook format as I was scrolling through that section of the library website one night. I remembered her from NPR and I'd read her first book and liked it, so I borrowed this one. I am glad I did. It was fascinating to hear about the brain research that is going on, the life stories shared with the author as well as her own, and the ideas put forward by researchers about how to live a healthier, happier life.
In addition to finding the research interesting, there were a few parts that related directly to my life and gave me food for thought. I could see areas that I need to work on. For example, stretching ones mind is an important aspect to brain function. Coasting isn't really good for the brain and leads to boredom. This is relevant to me at the moment. I have had a tendency to coast, especially in the past couple of years. I've had ideas that would require me to move into new territory, learn new skills, or do things I am new at and uncomfortable with. I end up thinking about it, but not doing it. It brings to mind something I heard someone say once. 'Five frogs are sitting on a log. One decides to jump. How many frogs are left? The answer is five, because deciding to jump is not jumping.' For the last couple of years especially, I have not even really decided to jump. I'd think about jumping, decide I was too tired to jump and besides what's the point of jumping, and settle in with the comfortable and the familiar. I am still thinking about this, but I can see how, given the situation I was in and how I was feeling, there were benefits to this--I probably did not need more discomfort and stress in my life during that time. On the other hand, it might also have been very helpful to have 'beginner's mind' about some things. In any case, that part of my life is over now and it's time to move on. Finding ways to stretch our minds and creative abilities is important for all of us. I vaguely knew this, but hearing from the researchers about how crucial it is brought home to me that it's time for me to do something about it. I might stumble around for a while, but there's joy in the journey as well as frustration! And whether or not it helps as I grow older, it will enrich my life now, which is also important.
One thing I really enjoyed about the book was the personal stories, including the author's. She'd put up a post on the NPR Facebook page asking for people to share them and she got hundreds in a few hours. She readily admits they were skewed to a certain demographic and that brings me to the one 'problem' with the book. It is true that no book on a topic such as this can cover every possible situation, so I am not sure 'problem' is the right word. But it is true that much of what she reports from the experts in the field are things that would probably not be possible for people who struggle to find enough money to pay the rent and eat. It's great to suggest that people stretch their minds, rethink careers and how skills are being used, how to be more fulfilled, how to stave off dementia, and things like that, but these things require a certain standard of living. One of the things she discovers in her research is the importance of education and reading in avoiding the symptoms associated with Alzheimer's disease. But far too many people lack access to good education at any level, let alone college and grad school and for many time to read is a luxury, even if the interest is there. However, she is reporting what the research findings are and there is nothing she can do about what the research says.
One anecdote really stuck out for me. She recounts the story of a woman who was a corporate lawyer. It was always assumed that she would be a lawyer--her father and brother were lawyers and she followed in their footsteps. She worked for Philip Morris, in Europe for a while and then in DC. She became restless and wanted something else, but would entertain and then dismiss the thought. One day, she was in her backyard, preparing to read the paper. As she sat in her hammock, the frame broke. She fell to the ground and was hit in the head with a piece of it. She was knocked out and when she came to, there was blood everywhere. She said that she realized the time for change was at hand, since who knew how much time she had left--she never considered that she could be killed in her back yard reading the newspaper! So she thought about what she loved to do and saw that she loved caring for her elderly black lab. She did some research and discovered that there was a need for aqua therapy pools for dogs. She and her husband sold their home and bought one where they could build such a pool and her business was born. Then she was surprised at the response she got from friends and acquaintances, all of whom thought she'd lost her mind. She commented that she used to work for Philip Morris and people thought that was OK, but caring for older dogs isn't? It does rather point out the skewed thinking that's out there about what a successful life looks like.
All in all, I thought this was a good, useful book. It gave me some things to think about and I enjoyed the stories. She did a good job of using the stories to illustrate the research findings. The audiobook I listened to was read by the author and she did a good job. I have been unable to listen to some audiobooks I've checked out because the reader's style has been too annoying or distracting, but I remembered her from NPR and knew that would not be the case here.
I hope there are some interesting and thought provoking books in your world today!