Some people tend to feel a sense of existential dread, sadness, or disappointment in life in their 40s or 50s. But this “midlife slump” is perfectly normal. Just don’t confuse it with the caricature of the midlife crisis where everyone runs out and buys red sports cars or has affairs.
Studying the midlife slump
According to research, people in “middle age” often experience a dip in happiness and life satisfaction between the ages of 40 and 50. One study even pinpointed the most miserable age – 47.2. Of course, that’s just an average, so don’t plan for it. The good news is this dip is usually temporary. In fact, after the slump is over, people tend to become happier as they age.
The midlife dip in happiness is caused by a combination of factors. The reality of an aging body, financial pressure, having to take care of both children and elders and the plain old realization that your life is half over (if you’re lucky). It seems to be all downhill from there.
However, studies also find that people tend to rebound from the midlife slump with gusto. And they become happier as they age. In fact, one study found that people tend to be happiest in their 70s and 80s! Apparently, a sore body is no match for the satisfaction brought by wisdom. With age comes greater contentment and well-being!
So if you’re feeling a bit blue about hitting the big 4-0 or 5-0, take heart in the fact that the midlife slump is a normal part of the aging process. You can even make it a time for self-reflection and growth rather than drowning in your own misery. Some people use this time to make positive changes in their lives. You might start a new career, pursue a lifelong dream, take stock of your priorities, and begin to surround yourself with the people who matter.
Is a midlife crisis different?
The term “midlife crisis” was first coined in 1965 by psychologist Elliot Jaques. He used it to describe a period of self-doubt and reflection. But it only applied to his male patients. It wasn’t until many decades later that people realized women at this age were also struggling – they just deal with it differently and were more likely to seek help.
The classic “midlife crisis” isn’t a given. But it can be triggered by major life events that typically happen in one’s 40s or 50s. This can include the death of loved ones, divorces, job losses, and a general sense of unfulfillment. People find themselves asking “Is this it”? It’s a bit different from the midlife slump, which is a measure of happiness. And happiness is something internal.
Whatever kind of midlife rut you might find yourself in, take heart in the fact that it may be an opportunity for positive change.