Midlife happiness through the (narrow) lens of science

How can we live well after 40? asks Barbara Bradley Hagerty. She could have consulted the wisdom traditions.

Imagine if Aristotle, writing his Ethics, had narrowed his subject to people 40 and older, asking what human flourishing looks like in the second half of life. Then imagine he had access to neuroimaging technology and psychological research. The result might have been something like Life Reimagined. Barbara Bradley Hagerty critiques shallow notions of midlife happiness in her quest to understand midlife eudaimonia—human thriving, flourishing—using the best science on the topic.

Hagerty is known to many as National Public Radio’s former religion correspondent, a job that positioned her well to write her first book, Fingerprints of God: What Science Is Learning about the Brain and Spiritual Experience. Readers of that book will recognize in this one Hagerty’s penchant for allowing brain science to shed light on tough questions, in this case how to thrive in the years of midlife. Her adverting to neuroscience is at once a strength and a weakness of Life Reimagined.

The book pieces together her own story of midlife struggle with stories of others and research on the science of midlife. (Early in the book she an­nounces to her husband, “I think I’m having a midlife crisis,” to which he responds, “Please don’t do that.”) The result is a compelling mosaic of strategies for making the years between 40 and 60 rich and meaningful.