Midlife Crisis Myths
- It Happens to Everyone
- It Happens After Parental Death
- It’s the Beginning of the End
- It Must Be a Crisis
- It’s Always Negative
Scientists in the field of developmental psychology are sometimes frustrated by the persistent myths surrounding the so-called midlife crisis. While popular culture depicts this event as a life-consuming negative change driven by a looming sense of mortality, the reality is quite different. Here’s a debunking of five of the most common myths about the midlife crisis.
1. It Happens to Everyone
Almost everyone thinks they will experience a crisis around 40. Some even look forward to the event as an excuse to buy a new car or pick a new hairstyle. In reality, psychologists have found no evidence of his belief. A MacArthur Foundation study found that less than 10 percent of senior citizens reported ever going through a midlife mix-up. This can also be seen through anecdotal evidence, as the majority of Americans get through their 40s without trading in the family sedan or backpacking across Europe for a year.
2. It Happens After Parental Death
Losing a parent is a traumatic experience, and it’s not surprising that many people think this event can trigger a serious melt-down. While it’s true that the sudden death of a parent can lead to extreme stress, most Americans don’t pass away suddenly. This means middle-aged children have years to adjust to their parents’ failing health. Also, everyone is living longer. It’s common for children to be in their 50s or 60s, well past the mid-life period, when their parents pass.
3. It’s the Beginning of the End
To a young adult, being 50 or even 40 seems like a terrible fate. A person of that age, the thinking goes, will be overburdened by wrinkles and sadness. No one can be truly happy past age 30 or so. The opposite is true; as The Economist points out, most people are happier as they age. That’s because old age tends to come with stable friendships and stable personal finances, both of which lead to contentment. No matter what the reason, it’s clear that reaching mid-life doesn’t mean a slow, gloomy march to the grave.
4. It Must Be a Crisis
Developmental psychologists do recognize a mid-life period, and they’ve found that people are typically at their least happiest during this transitional phase. That doesn’t mean it takes the form of a crisis. Instead, psychologists identify the mid-life as a stage in life when people take stock of their accomplishments and their values. It’s the time to reconsider working so hard, renew bonds with distant friends and commit to a long-term partner, then settle in and enjoy the next stage.
5. It’s Always Negative
The typical picture of a mid-life meltdown involves inappropriate new personal style, big-ticket purchases and radical career changes. A more typical mid-life stage will have positive and negative changes. Someone in this developmental period might start exercising more often to lose weight and gain health while looking for a more satisfactory job and dedicating more time to volunteer work. For some people, this is the right stage for making changes to ensure the remaining years will be enjoyable.
Psychology has many secrets of human behavior to share, but this field must be approached carefully. As these myths about the midlife crisis demonstrate, it’s easy to misunderstand the findings of developmental psychology.