Apparently, thinking about quitting your career and making significant lifestyle changes are both symptoms of midlife crisis. As I started to share my tentative plans with friends and seek their advice, I heard this all too often. I think that people may have been more understanding if I’d said that I was planning to buy a shiny red Maserati, as that seems to be the more acceptable face of midlife crisis (for men at least).
As I’ve researched the topic, I’ve learned that people respond differently to this natural biological occurrence. Some find themselves longing for the intimacy of a new and passionate relationship. Others become obsessed with their physical appearance or need the stimulus of physical, free-flowing movement (dancing, running, biking, driving sports cars, etc.). Some find themselves drawn to the creative arts, wishing that they could draw or paint or write, or play an instrument. For some, ‘less is more’ comes to play, and they crave for a simpler life.
So what is midlife crisis? Midlife crisis is often described as a period in our lives, between 40 to 60 years of age, when feelings of happiness and life satisfaction start to decrease and feelings of depression and discontentment increase. Unmet aspirations (most painfully felt at midlife) and life changing events such as the death of a loved one, divorce, and a major illness may trigger a person to go through midlife crisis and cause a dramatic change in a person’s direction.
Research studies suggest that as we age, happiness and life satisfaction peaks in our youth, dips during the middle of our life starting in the early 30s and bottoming out between the mid-40s and mid-50s, before climbing again as we get older to levels as high as during young adulthood. Plotted on a graph, you’d see a U-shaped curve, with the dip corresponding to the period from 40 to 60 years of age. The reason seems quite straightforward. Older people tend to appreciate the simple things in life while younger people are more likely to seek out excitement and become disappointed later in midlife when they don’t find it. It appears that midlife crisis can happen to any of us, regardless of socio-economic status or level of education.
From my perspective, I find the term ‘midlife crisis’ comes with too much baggage. Reconciling feelings of turmoil can be overwhelming for some, leading to broken or abandoned relationships, severe depression and suicidal thoughts, etc. For those individuals, ‘crisis’ might be an accurate description of what they’re experiencing, but, fortunately, they are in the minority (studies suggest that approximately 10% experience real crises). For others though, ‘angst’ might be a more accurate description of what they’re feeling, and for those individuals, changing or adopting new habits or activities might be all that is needed to encourage a more positive outlook. Rather than call it a “midlife crisis”, I’ve decided to go with the term ‘midlife funk’ (hence the title of this site), as I’m hoping to bring a more hopeful, optimistic and light-hearted tone to the conversation. I believe that regardless of life circumstances, a midlife dip in happiness is quite normal. For those who can recognize it for what it is, I believe that experiencing a midlife funk can prompt the reevaluation and recalibration of one’s priorities, providing opportunities for enduring personal growth. That’s the silver lining that I see in my clouds. How about you?
Jonathan Rauch. The Real Roots of Midlife Crisis. The Atlantic. Dec 2014 issue.
Hannes Schwandt. Why So Many of Us Experience a Midlife Crisis. Harvard Business Review. April 2015 issue.