What Midlife Isn't
Midlife isn’t just age. It is so much more.
Posted October 9, 2020
Midlife gets a bad rap. But why? After all, we know that happiness is a U shape, with our satisfaction rising by the time we turn 50 (Blanchflower, 2020). We also know that when we reach older adulthood we will recall our midlife years as better than other periods of our lives (Galambos, 2020). So, why is it that we are so reluctant to embrace 40-65? Perhaps it because of the myths that make us believe we will lose all we’ve gained in our younger adult years. Let’s clear up our intermediate years and illuminate what midlife isn't.
1. Loss of sex appeal/desire: the expectation for younger generations that wrinkles, gray or thinning hair, and a closet full of mom/dad jeans await every 40-year-old. However, according to Pew Research (2020), roughly 38 percent of 40-year-olds and 19% of 50-64 year-olds use dating apps. That is a lot of people! And, you don’t need a Ranker list to tell you Sofia Vergara and Bradley Cooper (45), Halle Berry and Hugh Jackman (51), Colin Firth (60) and Christie Brinkley (64) are some of the most attractive people on the planet. Midlifers are dating and appearing on magazine covers and showing their sex appeal more now than ever before.
2. End of job/work opportunities. The stress of work-life is real. However, stale careers are being replaced by midlifers more often than ever before. Side hustles and hobbies are emerging as full-time opportunities for midlifers. The over 40-65 set are using their experience and networks from decades of work to pivot to new ventures.
3. Bleak future. Most imagine death will smack us in the face in midlife, sending us into depression and despair. However, rather than despair, midlifers feel more generative and have a desire to give back to the next generation. As Erik Erikson (the lifespan developmental psychologist) theorized, in our middle years, we feel secure in our expertise and our identity, so we have a desire to give back without expecting anything in return. We are preparing to leave our legacy or footprint on the world. Volunteering, mentoring, and philanthropy are examples of generativity. These provide a feeling of fulfillment and purpose for midlifers. This stage of life isn’t bleak or depressing.
Midlife isn’t a time of stagnation, decline, or despair. Rather, it is a time when we know and accept who we are, we have gained expertise in work and life, and we have the curiosity, energy, and desire to make our mark on the world.
Blanchflower, D. (2020). Unhappiness and age. doi:10.3386/w26642
Galambos, N. L., Krahn, H. J., Johnson, M. D., & Lachman, M. E. (2020). The U Shape of Happiness Across the Life Course: Expanding the Discussion. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 15(4), 898–912. https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691620902428