Listen: Katrina Roe chats to journalist Matt Wade about the Midlife Low. Above: Many people reach one of their happiest seasons in their senior years.
Do you remember when you were at your happiest? If you’re in your senior years, chances it wasn’t in the midlife season of your 40s.
Because according to new research, there is plenty of evidence to suggest many of us experience a ‘midlife low’. The study, by economists David Blanchflower and Andrew Oswald, surveyed no less than 1.3 million people around the world, rating their level of happiness against their age.
The U-Shaped Curve of Happiness
Fairfax journalist Matt Wade, who wrote about the research, said we typically experience a U-shape happiness curve over our cycle.
“According to this research, we are most happy on average in our late teens and early twenties, and sort of [have] a downward slide, [and] we reach the nadir around in our early 50s. But it bounces again, so I can look forward to happier days ahead,” he told Hope 103.2’s Katrina Roe.
Because Life Is Difficult
According to the research, one reason for the slump during mid-life; is the difficult circumstances we face, such as marriage breakdowns, illnesses and career or family pressures.
“People who are in their late forties to early fifties, are often in the peak of their career so they’ve got a lot of work responsibilities but it’s also a stage of life where you might have a lot of caring responsibilities, you might have aging parents, you might have difficult teenagers, so all these things are bearing out at the same time – that’s one explanation”, said Matt.
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But Matt doesn’t believe this explanation is enough, with people in their early 30s also juggling massive life pressures.
And that’s where the spectre of death comes in.
Because Life Is Slipping Through Our Fingers
Nothing brings a person down like thinking about death. This is another likely reason for the mid-life slump. When we come to our early 50s, there is a stronger realisation that we have fewer years to live.
“You might be disillusioned, you might not have achieved the things you wanted to do; you might not have gotten to the places you wanted to go. There’s sort of a mid-life disappointment”, Matt says.
This can also be the reason why people tend to do unpredictable things in this stage of life.
“I guess in our culture it connects the whole theory of mid-life crisis, where middle-age men go out buy a Ferrari. But again there are those in the academic world who are a bit sceptical about that one as well.”
Even Apes Have a Midlife Slump
Another idea that confirms the midlife slump is biology. A study was done by a different group of scientists who observed the behaviour patterns of over 500 great apes – creatures who are biologically quite similar to humans. Sure enough, in these great apes there was a mid-life dip too.
“I don’t know what to make of that, it’s just an interesting parallel finding,” Matt says. “I guess that gist of that argument was that there’s something biological in this – that it’s part of the human condition.”
The positive in all of this, is that after 50, our happiness – according to the research – starts to climb again. So, if you’re 50 or younger, one way or another, happy days really are ahead.