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The Atlantic
The Atlantic
11 Mar 2023
Isabel Fattal

NextImg:Finding Happiness in Middle Age

This is an edition of The Wonder Reader, a newsletter in which our editors recommend a set of stories to spark your curiosity and fill you with delight. Sign up here to get it every Saturday morning.

In a 2021 Atlantic article that I’ve now read many times, the writer Deborah Copaken reflects on her time spent with another writer, Nora Ephron. A random phone call (“Hi, Deb, this is Nora Ephron.” “Yeah, right. And I’m Joan of Arc.”) led to a decade-long friendship between Copaken and Ephron—or, as Copaken calls her, “this daughterless woman who has all but adopted me and several other women.”

Copaken’s article, excerpted from her memoir Ladyparts, catalogs her own midlife challenges as well as Ephron’s death, in 2012. The article helps those of us who have long loved Ephron get to know her better, but what resonates with me most are the three lessons Copaken has gathered from the rom-com auteur about navigating middle age. Ephron, Copaken wrote, “teaches me, by example, how to navigate the postreproductive half of my life.” Here’s how:

  1. Gather friends in your home and feed them.
  2. Laugh in the face of calamity.
  3. Cut out all the things––people, jobs, body parts––that no longer serve you.

I’d venture to suggest that those rules apply at most ages. But today’s reading list focuses on that era of life we call the “middle”—what makes it special, and how to find a singular sort of happiness within it.

Three Rules for Middle-Age Happiness

By Deborah Copaken

Gather friends and feed them, laugh in the face of calamity, and cut out all the things––people, jobs, body parts––that no longer serve you.

The Puzzling Gap Between How Old You Are and How Old You Think You Are

By Jennifer Senior

There are good reasons you always feel 20 percent younger than your actual age.

An Ode to Middle Age

By James Parker

Your body begins to betray you. You have neither the vitality of youth nor the license of old age. But being over the hill has its pleasures.

Still Curious?

Other Diversions


I’ll leave you with some words from James Parker’s ode to middle age:

“You’re more free. The stuff that used to obsess you, those grinding circular thoughts—they’ve worn themselves out. You know yourself, quite well by now. Life has introduced you to your shadow; you’ve met your dark double, and with a bit of luck the two of you have made your accommodations. You know your friends. You love your friends, and you tell them.”

— Isabel

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