We often hear stories of individuals in their 40’s or 50’s who go through drastic life changes. Sometimes it’s a decision to get divorced, change jobs, move across the country, or maybe buy a sports car or even better a Harley Davidson. Often the explanation or blame for these behaviors falls to the individual having a mid-life crisis. Supposedly, many things can lead to someone’s having a mid-life crisis; some of the possibilities include unhappiness with a spouse, a lack of meaning or direction in one’s life, a feeling of unfulfilled goals or dreams, menopause, or simply a desire for fun, excitement, and adventure. I think it’s safe to say that many of the things that supposedly lead to a mid-life crisis regularly occur to people when they are in their 20’s or 30’s and even their 60’s or 70’s. I was unable to uncover any research that specifically described when a mid-life crisis usually started, how long it usually lasts, or the best way to get out of one should it occur. A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology by Reynolds, et al. (2001) suggests that as we get older positive affect, things like joy and excitement, remain fairly stable whereas negative affect, things like anger, disgust, anguish, and shame, actually decreases. The authors also discuss how additional research findings don’t support the idea that middle age is a time when many people go into crisis mode. They cite some studies showing that differences in life satisfaction change little across the lifespan and also discuss how some research actually supports the idea of greater well-being in older adults. While some people may go through hard times during the mid-life years, this is often the time when people are getting promoted, earning a decent salary, happily raising children, and generally feeling pretty good about themselves.
Charles, S., Reynolds, C., and Gatz, M. Age-related differences and change in positive and negative affect over 23 years. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (2001), Vol 80, pp. 136-151.