For the past few years I've suspected I might be suffering from mild depression, since I've lost interest in so many things I used to love passionately and would rather head back to the heartland to spend time with friends and family than run off on some wild European adventure, or prefer to sit in my cozy little matchbox studio and read a book rather than fork over $100 to sit at the back of the mezzanine in some dark and lonely theater.
I hesitated to label this state “depression,” however, since that word seemed too big for a generally small feeling, and at no time did I actually feel that sad about any of it. I didn't withdraw from the world, I only stepped back from the parts that no longer seemed to fit. It felt like the temperature had changed somehow, permanently, and I couldn't understand what it was or why things that used to thrill me—including the reasons I packed up my life eight years ago to move here—no longer held any appeal.
Then yesterday I read Atul Gawande's Being Mortal and realized I'm not depressed at all, I'm just old.
What's more, our driving motivations in life, instead of remaining constant, change hugely over time and in ways that don't quite fit Maslow's classic hierarchy. In young adulthood, people seek a life of growth and self-fulfillment, just as Maslow suggested. Growing up involves opening outward. We search out new experiences, wider social connections, and ways of putting our stamp on the world. When people reach the latter half of adulthood, however, their priorities change markedly. Most reduce the amount of time and effort they spend pursuing achievement and social networks. They narrow in. Given the choice, young people prefer meeting new people to spending time with, say, a sibling; old people prefer the opposite. Studies find that as people grow older they interact with fewer people and concentrate more on spending time with family and established friends. They focus on being rather than doing and on the present more than the future.
The book is concerned primarily with how we as a culture deal (or not) with aging and death, and this section was only one of many that struck me as so true and so obvious that I don't even mind admitting—in front of god and the Internet and everybody—that I really have reached middle age.
Unrelated yet apropos to the overall mise-en-scène:
+ p.s.: read the book. It's vital.