“Hey, buddy! It’s been pretty long since I last saw you! How have you been?”
“Not bad, mate; nothing much to say, midlife crisis perhaps!.”
For people in the mid-forties or above, such a conversation would not seem like anything out of the ordinary. We all have heard about it and experiencing a ‘midlife crisis’ has become quite common these days. But what exactly is a midlife crisis? How exactly do you define a crisis that follows?
Conventionally, a person is thought to have entered his midlife around his late thirties at the earliest. The crisis usually comes into the picture when we are in our late forties or early fifties. During this time, the physical abilities, happiness, creativity, productivity and adaptability, all exhibit a sharp decline. The realisation that the dreams one set out to achieve are no longer a genuine and plausible pursuit. Unsatisfactory job or profession and married life may not be at its healthiest and feeling of a genuine sense of disappointment and dejection; all these (or some of them) come together to create that much-feared transformation during midlife which then is summed up in a term “Midlife Crisis”.
Has the definition of ‘midlife’ evolved over the years?
Over time, the entry point to midlife seems to have moved forward by a few years. The midlife and the crisis associated with it are experienced by people in their early thirties too. The fast-paced nature of modern life, the younger generation’s ‘need for speed’ with respect to the realization of life goals; and the lack of patience and tolerance may be to blame for it. One might still be very young but may have already entered the dreaded ‘midlife’ phase of life.
Is the midlife crisis a real phenomenon or just a myth?
This question generally draws different answers from different people. However, there is no credible scientific, research-backed proof that could substantiate claims of the midlife crisis being a real phenomenon. The studies, in fact, point in the opposite direction.
Scientific studies that strike down the midlife crisis theory.
In 2 longitudinal studies conducted by researchers from Canada’s University of Alberta have suggested that happiness doesn’t necessarily diminish during midlife. The findings were published in September 2015 through a paper titled ‘Up, not down: The age curve in happiness from early adulthood to midlife in two longitudinal studies‘. This study, which followed 2 groups of people – high school seniors from 18-43 years of age, and university seniors from 23-37, laid out the following 5 facts that may debunk the myth of midlife crisis:
- People are much happier during their early forties than they were at 18
- Happiness levels rise the fastest from the age of 18 and the trend continues till the late thirties
- People are happier when they are married and in great physical health, and lower when they are unemployed
- The increase in happiness between the teens and early forties is inconsistent with the idea of a midlife crisis
- The rise in happiness well into the midlife invalidates the theory that happiness reduces with age, especially as you enter your midlife.
In another study that supports the theory that the midlife crisis is just a myth, Cornell University conducted a phone survey and asked participants which time period of their life would do they like to return to. Majority of the older people involved in the survey replied that they’d wish to go back to their forties! In the survey, a third of the participants said that they have gone through a midlife crisis. However, researchers found that they were simply describing some disturbing events that took place during their midlife; events that probably had very little to do with age. The report concluded that a midlife crisis is not an inevitability and many people use their midlife to give a new meaning to their lives.
The midlife crisis theory is just not practical.
Besides the host of surveys that disprove the midlife crisis theory, there are practical reasons why this theory should not (and does not) make any sense.
As you age, you become more mature than you were in your teens or early twenties. You have been through the rigours of life and understand that problems are a part of it. And, with experience of dealing with them first-hand right throughout your life, it is unlikely that you will let any problem, either personal or professional, escalate to a crisis.
People who claim that midlife crisis does actually exist often argue that the failure to realise life goals is a major contributing factor. However, the supposed ‘failure’ may just be a natural ‘realignment’ of life goals. For example, an academician may realign his goal of opening a learning institute for teaching students through a major learning institute. It doesn’t mean that he/she has failed; the person has maybe found a more sensible and practical purpose.
In your late forties and early fifties, the peak midlife so to speak, you would in general terms be at the peak in your professional life. Your salary would usually be higher than at any other point in your life. On the personal front, your children would have probably settled down in their lives, or be at the cusp. There is little reason why you should be in a crisis scenario in your personal or professional life.
Arguably the most overused term used to explain a bad phase in life, the midlife crisis theory is probably just that; A THEORY! There is no particular age that invites a crisis period more than others. And who knows, it might be a surprisingly happy time to live! It’s time that we lay this midlife crisis phenomenon to rest; once and for all, and for good!