If you Google "midlife," the word "crisis" inevitably shows up. The term was first used in a 1965 article by psychologist, Elliot Jaques, when he was describing how adults between the ages of 45-55 grapple with their mortality and the fact that they have less time to accomplish their goals and desires. But, we've come a long way since then and our midlife today is light years away from midlife then, right?
Definition of a Crisis
A full-blown crisis is typically characterized by an intense period of trouble or danger and it can also be when a difficult decision must be made. Midlife isn't really a time of danger, unless you're a stunt person or have a dangerous job. And there isn't really a difficult decision you need to make during this time, unless you're dealing with a health scare or some other major life event like the loss of a loved one or the loss of a job. The crisis that Jaques was outlining where someone between the ages of 45-55 purchases a turbo sports car or leaves a stable marriage for a younger person, is not actual typical.
Midlife Does Have It's Lows
In the book, Life Reimagined: The Science, Art, and Opportunity of Midlife, author Barbara Bradley Hagerty does say that midlife can certainly be a low point in most of our lives. She talks to experts in psychology and aging who point to a U-shaped happiness curve of human well-being:
Arthur Stone, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at Stony Brook University, surveyed nearly 350,000 Americans, breaking down well-being into positive and negative feelings. They found that short-term happiness peaks at age twenty, dips in midlife, and then peaks again around age seventy. When they asked about stress levels, people reported stress rising from age twenty-two, but then falling off after age fifty. The same is true of sadness and worry: They peak at midlife, and then, mysteriously, people become more cheerful and relaxed. In other words, positive emotions increase, and negative ones decrease, creating a “net” happiness gain after one’s middle years. (Page 28).
I even conducted an informal poll on Facebook asking my friends and people I associate with in groups (who are women between the ages of 45-60), if they felt like they were having a crisis. The overwhelming response was, no. So the question isn't so much about how you survive a midlife crisis because that's not really the case. The question is: how are you responding to the stressors and the inevitable dip in happiness?
What Midlife is Really About
If you find yourself asking more questions like, "What do I really want? Where am I going? What is my real purpose and what if I never find it? " You're not having a midlife crisis. You are trying to find meaning.
Your search for meaning probably began a long time ago but before you were busy. Meaning becomes much more acute because there's less time available than there was when you were younger. It's about re-examining your life and discovering what is important and spending your time doing more of that, if possible. The way you think about this phase has a lot to do with it. Seeing it as an opportunity instead of a drop off is the way to find more meaning and happiness. Also, being thankful for what you have and stopping the endless pursuit of what you don't have. Find the precious things in your life and cling to them.
You have a choice in how you experience midlife. What choice are you making?
5 Steps for Thriving in Midlife
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