Is it time to lighten up and challenge the concept of midlife crisis? A team of researchers from New University of Alberta thinks so, arguing that it may not be in existence after all.
For about 50 years now, research is mostly hinged on the idea of happiness on a U-shaped curve, marked by a low point that came to be known as the midlife crisis. Based on studies, happiness dips for most in their early 20s to middle age, or from 40 to 60 years of age.
Midlife crisis, however, should be up for scrutiny, according to research published recently in the journal Development Psychology. The paper drew data from two longitudinal studies conducted by a team led by first author and Alberta-based researcher Nancy Galambos.
The new longitudinal data, contrary to claims of earlier cross-sectional studies on happiness, suggested that happiness does not halt in midlife, but instead proceeds in an upward trajectory that starts in one’s teenage years and early 20s. Authors Galambos and Harvey Krahn claimed theirs is a far more reliable study than others before it.
"I'm not trashing cross-sectional research, but if you want to see how people change as they get older, you have to measure the same individuals over time," argued sociologist Krahn.
The researchers tracked two groups: Canadian high school seniors aged 18 to 43, and university seniors aged 23 to 37.
The happiness of both groups increased into their 30s and with a slight drop by age 43 within the first group. With various factors such as employment and marital status accounted for, both groups exhibited a general increase in happiness outside of high school as well as the university.
The research also discovered that people were in fact happier while in their early 40s than at age 18, while happiness increases most quickly from age 18 to 30s. Happiness was also marked higher in years of marriage and better physical condition, and lower when someone is in between jobs.
According to the researchers, the rise in happiness between the teens and those in their early 40s was not aligned with a midlife crisis.
Midlife crisis, the stuff of stereotypical jokes and even advertising agenda, garnered a lot of attention in the 1980s. According to Dr. Dan Jones of Appalachian State University in North Carolina, who has studied adult development, it was never a formal diagnostic category.
However, the idea stuck and became largely accepted as a fact of life from about the age 37 through 50s.
Back in 2011, psychologists said in an interview that midlife crisis might not really be accurate.
"There is no specific time in life that predisposes you to crisis," said lifespan researcher Alexandra Freund of the University of Zurich in Switzerland, adding that people’s crises are not at all age-related.
Instead, Lachman noted that crises are triggered by an event – may it be a loved one’s death, a career setback, or a sudden illness – can occur at any age.
Psychologist Margie Lachman added that epidemiologists do not find spikes in negative events during middle age.
Galambos highlighted their research as crucial information given the importance of happiness and its links to lifespan and overall wellness.
"We want people to be happier so that they have an easier life trajectory. And also they cost less to the health system, and society,” the psychologist explained.
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