Confession - I write this as a middle-aged white man from England. If I have not lost you already, read on…
In recent years, I have noticed a growing trend of apathy and disengagement in various aspects of life, including politics and current affairs. This is particularly concerning as it not only impacts the functioning of our democracies but also affects individual well-being and overall passion for life. Interestingly, this trend seems to be more pronounced among middle-aged adults, a period of life often associated with a 'midlife crisis.' This crisis often manifests as a significant decline in motivation, leading to questions about life's meaning and purpose (Wethington, 2000).
The current economic climate exacerbates this issue. The increased cost of living, coupled with stagnant wages, has led to financial strain for many individuals and families (Kearney & Pardue, 2020). This economic pressure contributes to feelings of overwhelm, stress, and helplessness, further fuelling a sense of apathy and disengagement. It's challenging to find meaning and purpose when struggling to make ends meet.
Moreover, we live in a so-called 'post-truth' society, where objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal beliefs (Oxford Dictionaries, 2016). This has led to a proliferation of misinformation, distrust in institutions, and a general sense of confusion about what is true and what is not. This erosion of trust and shared reality further contributes to feelings of apathy and disengagement.
Meaning and Mid-Life?
Viktor Frankl, the founder of logotherapy, highlighted the fundamental human need for meaning and purpose in life (Frankl, 1984). A sense of meaning and connection to something larger than us promotes resilience, happiness, and engagement. Conversely, a lack of meaning can lead to feelings of apathy, depression, and disconnection.
The implications of this growing apathy are profound. A disengagement from politics and current affairs leads to less accountability for those in power and an erosion of democratic values. On a personal level, it results in a decline in motivation in all areas of life, impacting relationships, career aspirations, and overall well-being.
So why is this apathy more pronounced in middle age? Research suggests that middle-aged adults often experience a decline in life satisfaction, sometimes referred to as the 'U-shape' in well-being (Blanchflower & Oswald, 2008). This period of life is often marked by increased responsibilities, both personally and professionally, leading to feelings of overwhelm and a questioning of one's life trajectory. Additionally, the physical changes associated with aging can contribute to a decline in self-esteem and an increased sense of mortality (Lachman, 2004).
Getting practical – one step at a time
To combat this growing sense of apathy and disengagement, it is crucial to take proactive steps to reconnect with one's sense of purpose and meaning. Here are some strategies that can help:
Reflect on Your Values and Passions: Take time to reflect on what is truly important to you, and what brings you a sense of purpose and meaning. This reflection can serve as a compass, guiding your actions and decisions in a way that is aligned with your true self.
Take Small, Meaningful Actions: Identify small, meaningful actions that you can take on a daily basis to make a positive impact on the world around you. These actions could be as simple as engaging in a thoughtful conversation with a friend or family member, volunteering in your community, or advocating for a cause that is important to you.
Foster Connection: Seek out connections with others who share your values and passions. Building relationships and engaging in meaningful conversations can help combat feelings of isolation and apathy.
Practice Mindful Consumption of Information: Be mindful of the information you consume, and seek out diverse perspectives that challenge your thinking and broaden your understanding of the world. And, dare I say, only consume ‘news’ once a day for a while or as your new standard.
Cultivate Gratitude: Practicing gratitude can help shift your focus from what is lacking in your life to what is abundant. This shift in perspective can help combat feelings of apathy and cultivate a more positive outlook on life.
So, here’s the challenge amid it all! Let us not be passive observers of this trend, but active participants in creating a more engaged, meaningful, and fulfilling future for ourselves and our communities...whether you are a middle-aged white fella from England or not 😉.