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Life at Mid-Life

Mid-life is often associated with unhappy events: the empty nest, menopause, infidelity, financial concerns, a dire sense of mortality, and growing unhappiness with the daily grind. Life in one's 40s and 50s may seem like a natural time to tally one's failures and disappointments, of which there seem to be so many.

Interestingly, mid-life appears to be more of a crisis in some cultures than in others. While Western societies hold on to youth more tightly, people in Eastern cultures revere the wisdom that comes with old age. Perhaps Western cultures are too attached to the idea that there is trouble in this stage of life when it doesn't have to be that way.

Fortunately, the notion that "this is all there is" can give way to "life isn't at all bad."

Does Everyone Have a Mid-Life Crisis?

The notion of the “mid-life crisis” often centers on major life disruptions seen as typical to this stage of life, such as job loss, divorce, the death of parents, or the departure of children from the home. An acute sense of one’s own aging and the required efforts required to compensate for it also typically factor into perceptions of middle-age angst. But is a mid-life crisis really a normal part of the lifespan, something just about everyone should expect to experience? Research suggests otherwise.

Some people undoubtedly do go through crises or rough patches after their 30s, and researchers have built a case that, on average, life satisfaction decreases somewhat during mid-life—before rising again in the senior years. However, there is great variation between individuals, and many people achieve new highs at work or in other domains during these years.

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Getting Older With the Right Mindset

Mid-life often brings concerns about health, stagnancy in a long marriage, physical aging, elderly parents, being neck-deep in a child’s college tuition payments, mortgage fees, or anemic retirement funds. These worries are fertile ground for a confounding mindset that shouts: It's normal to feel dreadful at this stage.

Mid-lifers may buy into this negative thinking and embrace self-fulfilling prophecies. This is how a favorite hobby or pursuit comes to an end—I’m just too old now. In truth, this is the right stage in life to explore new experiences and opportunities. The knees may not work well on the ski slopes, but they might do fine learning a novel pastime such as tai chi.

While this period may be a good interval to reassess one’s life, a life-altering mid-life crisis is, in fact, far from inevitable.

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