We have all heard the term midlife crisis, but what exactly does it mean? Is it just a hormonal change that hits our bodies as a natural part of the aging process? Is it a stress related function that affects some people more than others? Is it a result of poor diet, extra stress or personal trauma? Does it affect men as well as women? People today live much longer than they used to, so when exactly is mid life, when exactly does the midlife crisis start? Does it vary from person to person depending on their ethnicity, income, or geographical location? Is it a selfish reaction to the inevitable anger at the passage of time?
Lots of questions spring immediately to mind, and I will attempt to answer as many of them as I can in this blog, because it affects me too….It affects everybody, so the more knowledge we have about it the better off we are….Women going through menopause, or “the change” as it is often delicately referred to, is pretty common knowledge…Nature has hardwired us to reproduce biologically at a very young age, early 20’s at the latest, to ensure the propagation of the species, so it is no surprise that as women approach or reach middle age that their reproductive systems start shutting down….So do men go through the equivalent of male menopause?
So lets check with some experts and see what is really going on in today’s world in America in 2015 as far as the midlife crisis goes….According to my Google sources: “A midlife crisis can be defined as an emotional crisis of identity and self-confidence that can occur in early middle age.“A modern midlife crisis hits men aged 43 and women at 44, The male midlife crisis lasts between three and ten years, whereas women will only suffer the crisis for two and five years, the study found.” What surprised me the most was the extent of midlife crisis in men, and the discovery that there is something called the U curve that puts midlife crisis in a more comprehensive context……
Men are most definitely affected; even though they do not have to go through the physical change of menopause that a woman goes through, men are absolutely affected psychologically…. One young man, who was quite successful in his early years, was baffled and puzzled by the feelings he was experiencing; he put it this way:
“Long ago, when I was 30 , I was told : “Midlife crisis begins sometime in your 40s, when you look at your life and think, Is this all? And it ends about 10 years later, when you look at your life again and think, Actually, this is pretty good.” In my 50s, thinking back, his words strike me as exactly right. To no one’s surprise as much as my own, I have begun to feel again the sense of adventure that I recall from my 20s and 30s. I wake up thinking about the day ahead rather than the five decades past. Gratitude has returned.
I was about 50 when I discovered the U-curve and began poking through the growing research on it. What I wish I had known in my 40s (or, even better, in my late 30s) is that happiness may be affected by age, and the hard part in middle age, whether you call it a midlife crisis or something else, is for many people a transition to something much better—something, there is reason to hope, like wisdom. Nothing was wrong with me, and I wasn’t alone. What exactly is the U curve?
“Whatever sets of data you looked at,” you got the same things: life satisfaction would decline with age for the first couple of decades of adulthood, bottom out somewhere in the 40s or early 50s, and then, until the very last years, increase with age, often (though not always) reaching a higher level than in young adulthood. The pattern came to be known as the happiness U-curve.
The U-curve emerges in answers to survey questions that measure satisfaction with life as a whole, not mood from moment to moment. The exact shape of the curve, and the age when it bottoms out, vary by country, survey question, survey population, and method of statistical analysis.
But they found a relationship between age and happiness in 80 countries, and in all but nine of those, satisfaction bottomed out between the ages of 39 and 57 (the average nadir was at about age 50).But filtering out important life circumstances suggests something intriguing: there may be an underlying pattern in life satisfaction that is independent of your situation.
In other words, if all else is equal, it may be more difficult to feel satisfied with your life in middle age than at other times. Blanchflower and Oswald have found that, statistically speaking, going from age 20 to age 45 entails a loss of happiness equivalent to one-third the effect of involuntary unemployment. Not everyone is prepared to go so far. In recent work, however, U-curve researchers have begun to find evidence that is harder to dismiss as mere statistical correlation.
It turns out that there is good science about this gift: studies show quite strongly that people’s satisfaction with their life increases, on average, from their early 50s on through their 60s and 70s and even beyond—for many until disability and final illness exact their toll toward the very end.
“As people age and time horizons grow shorter,” they write, “people invest in what is most important, typically meaningful relationships, and derive increasingly greater satisfaction from these investments.” Midlife is, for many people, a time of recalibration, when they begin to evaluate their lives less in terms of social competition and more in terms of social connectedness. In my 40s, I found I was obsessively comparing my life with other people’s: scoring and judging myself, and counting up the ways in which I had fallen behind in a race. Where was my best seller? My literary masterpiece?
In my 50s, I find myself more inclined to prize and enjoy people and relationships, which mercifully seem to be pushing the unwinnable status competition into the background. Also, Carstensen told me, “when the future becomes less distant, more constrained, people focus on the present, and we think that’s better for emotional experience. The goals that are chronically activated in old age are ones about meaning and savoring and living for the moment..
“Goals, because they’re set in temporal context, change systematically with age,” Carstensen says. “As people perceive the future as increasingly constrained, they set goals that are more realistic and easy to pursue.” For me, the expectation of scaling ever greater heights has faded, and with it my sense of disappointment and failure.
Particularly intriguing are findings by Jeste and his colleagues suggesting that older people compensate for deterioration in specific regions of the brain by recruiting additional neural networks in other regions—an increase in so-called neuroplasticity that compensates for cognitive decline and perhaps brings other benefits. Jeste also notes that the brain circuits linked to rewards lose some sensitivity with age, possibly reducing impulsivity and addictive tendencies.
So now we are finding out that midlife crisis is just an inevitable part of life, a natural function of the aging process, and not something to blame as a self indulgent “oh poor pitiful me” reaction….
This is a psychological look at the mid life crisis and as such applies to both men and women, but women still have the onset of physical menopause in mid life to exacerbate and amplify all the same feelings that men go through….The discovery of the U curve definitely puts things in a more comprehensible perspective…We are not to blame, we are just going through life’s inevitable changes…
So I guess the real message here is cheer up! As the late Yankee catcher Yogi Berra once famously said: “It ain’t over till it’s over.”
For more information on The U curve in life, see: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/…midlife-crisis/382235/
For more information on Midlife Crisis see:Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life, Gail Sheehy
For more articles by John Whye, click on http://www.johnwhye.com