The myth of the midlife crisis

Does life satisfaction really decline in our 40s and 50s? Clinical Psychologist Leanne Hall has some good news.

The phrase ‘midlife crisis’ has been a part of pop culture since it was coined by the Canadian psychoanalyst Elliott Jaques in 1965.

“The much talked about stereotypes typically being middle aged men who rush out to buy a sports car and sail off into the sunset with their younger secretaries,” says mind and body expert Leanne Hall.

The debate has gained traction since 2017 when two economists presented research that they said offered statistical proof for the existence of such a ‘crisis’.

The research pointed to those in their 40’s and 50’s who were less happy and satisfied with their lives than their younger and older counterparts.

“We’re seeing this U-shape, this psychological dip, over and over again. There is definitely a midlife low,” co-author of the study, Andrew Oswald said at the time.

However, Leanne says it’s important to understand that ‘midlife crisis’ is not a recognised medical term, but rather a cultural term, and many of us get through our middle years unscathed and happy.

She says it’s important to look at the bigger picture.

“Psychologists, including me, argue that you can’t possibly connect ‘age’ with a psychological phenomenon,” she explains.

“Rather – what we are seeing here is people experiencing a developmental or existential crisis of sorts which can happen at any age.”

midlife crisis

Leanne points to a recent online survey conducted by Censuswide on behalf of LinkedIn, which suggests millennials (20-34 years) are having their own quarter life crisis with nearly 80 per cent feeling pressure to succeed in relationships, career or finances before 30 years.

“Given that research it’s more plausible to say that this type of developmental or existential crisis can occur at any age,” she notes.

“This is good news, because it means that we can avoid these crises by taking the opportunity to get on the front foot by reflecting on our lives and actively planning for our future, rather than letting life simply happen to us.”

Leanne’s tips for surviving a ‘midlife crisis’:

  • Don’t panic. Take time to reflect and remember you’re never too old to change your life path.
  • Remember happiness is transient. Don’t make that your goal because it comes and goes.
  • Plan for your future. Don’t wait until it slaps you in the face!

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