Midlife is messy – teenage kids, ageing or dying parents, career plateaus, marital dramas and menopause make for a toxic cocktail. Like a middle-aged client said to me the other day, “I just can’t see that it will get any better.” Thankfully, the truth is that it is very likely to get better.
Interestingly, it may have nothing to do with your kids growing up, your happy retirement or your hormones stabilising. Those factors may all play a role, but it seems that there is something else at play. In his book, “The Happiness Curve,” Jonathan Rauch writes about why life gets better after midlife.
He systematically lays out the scientific evidence for the U-curve in happiness across many different fields. The evidence suggests that life satisfaction declines throughout people’s twenties and thirties to reach a low around the forties or fifties but then surprisingly rises again to end at the same level or higher than at the start of adult life. The evidence is consistent over many different time periods, data series, countries and research methods. And even more surprising, there is even evidence to suggest that this curve is biological – it occurs in other primates too.
In humans, other reasons contribute to the increase in life satisfaction. The difference in expectations being one of them – when we are young, we expect a rosy future. In midlife, we lower our expectations and in late life, we have very limited expectations from life. When expectations are low, it’s not difficult to exceed them.
Even those who were worse off economically after midlife reported more life satisfaction.
It is genuinely helpful for those in midlife to know that regardless of circumstances, there is a strong likelihood that their life satisfaction will increase. It helps us to see midlife not as a crisis, but as a time to reflect and refocus. It should fill us with hope that life will feel better, even it isn’t materially better. It’s perhaps just a different kind of prosper.
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