I had many versions of that conversation with successful professionals. It was as if doing well in life puts high achievers at additional risk of discontent. Which, it turns out, is exactly the case.
The (surprising) effect of time on happiness
To understand why midlife can be such a hazardous and perplexing time for high achievers, begin with a recent scientific discovery: For happiness, time matters — but not in the way you probably think.
We generally assume that time is an emotionally neutral background to life: that the clock just ticks along, and our circumstances and personalities determine our satisfaction with life. (By happiness, I mean not cheerfulness or elation or any such positive mood, but the larger, more important concept of well-being — feeling satisfied and fulfilled by our lives as a whole.)
The reality turns out to be quite different. Data from millions of people in countries and cultures around the world show that time is not neutral at all. It is more like a river current, with an independent effect on happiness all its own.
Hearing this, our next assumption may be that time works against happiness. After all, as we age, we have fewer years of life to look forward to, and more years of decline and disability.