He pointed to an interesting U-shaped curve in our life.
He wrote: "In 2008, economists David Blanchflower and Andrew Oswald published a paper in which they presented evidence that psychological well-being is U-shaped throughout one's life."
Their research states that "people generally enjoy their greatest life satisfaction during their youth and old age, and suffer a slump in happiness during middle age."
According to the economists, our "mental stress tends to reach a maximum in middle age."
Yet, all these have nothing to do with how successful or how unsuccessful you are when you either hit the big four-O or the big five-O. The so called slump is not prosperity-sensitive or failure-sensitive.
You can be successful and depressed as well. Likewise, looking back at a trail of failures, stilborn hopes and lost opportunities (because we fail to seize them) can throw you into a mid-life slump too when you hit mid-life.
Gary wrote that the successful nevertheless is confronted by these questions: "Is this it? Is there nothing more?" That triggers a mental slump for them.
He wrote: "If you don't achieve anything in the first half of your life, it makes sense that you're unhappy. But even if you've done as much as you can to achieve, you still end up feeling that something is missing."
This happens to Leo Tolstoy (1828 - 1910) and the extraordinarily precocious John Stuart Mill. Both were at the peak of their career and their achievement at that time were interstellar, as bright as the morning sun.
Yet, this is what the novelist extraordinaire wrote:
"My life came to a standstill. I could breathe, eat, drink and sleep, and I could not help doing these things, but there was no life, for there were no wishes the fulfilment of which I could consider reasonable. If I desired anything, I knew in advance that whether I satisfied my desire or not, nothing would come of it."
Gary also wrote about John Stuart Mill's torment when the child prodigy lamented:-
"In this frame of mind, it occurred to me to put the question directly to myself: 'Suppose that all your objects in life were realised... would this be a great joy and happiness to you?' And an irrepressible self-consciousness distinctly answered, 'No!' At this my heart sank within me: the whole foundation on which my life was constructed fell down.""
There is a book making its rounds in the bestseller list entitled "When breath becomes air" by the late neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi.
Paul was married with an eight-month-old daughter (Cady) before he passed on. His inspiring struggles with stage four lung cancer is thoroughly recounted in his book.
But my three lessons are from the letter his wife (Dr Lucy Kalanithi) wrote in the epilogue about Paul in the book.
1) She wrote that Paul cried at every crucial interval of the fight with cancer. She said that he did not fight with bravado or misguided faith. But with grace and an authenticity "that allowed him to grieve the loss of the future he had planned and forge a new one."
Lucy added: "Even while terminally ill, Paul was fully alive; despite physically collapse, he remained vigorous, open, full of hope not for an unlikely cure but for days that were full of purpose and meaning."
That's my first lesson: the hope for the present. It is always there, in the best or worst of times.
If Paul can find it, and have the courage to live it with his wife and daughter, despite the excruciating pain, and the life ebbing away from him, what excuse do the physically well have when they take this hope for granted?
Mid-life slump or not, this hope breathes meaning and purpose in our life, even if it is a brief one on earth.
2) Lucy also wrote that immediately after the diagnosis (Paul found out about the cancer at aged 35 and died two years later), he told her to remarry.
She wrote that "it exemplified the way he would, throughout his illness, work hard to secure my future."
At one point, Lucy recounted this incident a few weeks before Paul passed on. She asked him, "Can you breathe okay with my head on your chest like this?" His answer was "It's the only way I know how to breathe."
Love, my friends, is my second lesson here.
There is no U-shaped curve with love. At our worst point, at rock bottom, when everything seems to fall before us, we humbly return to the purity of undying love. It is where life is; true ceaseless life finds its rest and hope in love.
We breathe life when we are in the arms of love that judges not, embraces in its entirety, empowers wholly, fortifies with resilience and comforts deeply.
3) My last lesson has to do with a letter addressed to Paul's daughter, Cady, just two days before he died.
Lucy wrote this to Cady: "When someone dies, people tend to say great things about him. Please know that all the wonderful things people are saying now about your dad are true. He really was that good and that brave."
Then, Lucy quoted The Pilgrim's Progress:-
"Who would true valour see, Let him come hither... Then fancies fly away, He'll fear not what men say, He'll labour night and day, To be a pilgrim."
Death has no sting in a life well lived. In a life that treasures what this world cannot offer, death has no hold of it.
If we are all pilgrims taking shelter in the earthly inns we chance upon, on our journey to a place of eternal rest, then nothing can shake us from this faith, this hope, this love.
If we find success in this world, living in the meaning of the material, then we will always rest in the restlessness of our insatiable appetites.
For the pilgrims takes no notice of the elaborate festivities and display of men in their soaked riches and gated estate. The pilgrim has everything he or she needs and wants, which is beyond what money can ever buy.
He (or she) travels rich in the warm hand he holds to inspire him, in the chest she lies on for unconditional love, in the hope and legacy of his/her children, in the comfort of family, and in the courage to live in the present with dignity, grace and joy regardless of the circumstances.
And all three of my lessons are within our reach. There is no need to embellish ourselves ostentatiously in the pursuit of them. They are ultimately what makes life meaningful and purposeful, as Paul has shown. Cheerz.