Everyone knows the stereotype — once the kids have left the nest, middle-aged women supposedly start getting that nagging sense that they’ve lived their lives for other people. Maybe they wind up yelling at men out of convertibles and dancing on tables à la Courteney Cox in Cougar Town, or they have eyes for their handsome, shirtless gardener, like Eva Longoria in Desperate Housewives. But it turns out that most middle-aged people aren’t in crisis mode at all — or at least not any more so than the young.
A new study shows that middle-aged people are happier than the under-30 set. We tend to look at youth nostalgically. If you flip open any fashion magazine, you’ll be bombarded by glossy images of attractive teens and 20-somethings — glowering smugly out of the pages at you with that naive cool that comes from never experiencing a two-day hangover or a herniated disc. But maybe romanticizing our youth is just that. Because honestly, being young isn’t that great.
University of Alberta authors Nancy Galambos, Harvey Krahn and Matt Johnson worked to shatter the idea that the young are happier than the old in their new paper Up, Not Down: The Age Curve in Happiness from Early Adulthood to Midlife in Two Longitudinal Studies.
“I do think that mid-life crisis is a myth,” Galambos, a psychology professor, told CBC. “The results [of the paper] question the myth.”
Following two groups of Canadians of varying education levels — one between ages 18 and 43 and the other between 23 and 37 — the researchers found that people got happier as they aged. They found that happiness rises fastest as you age between 18 and 30 and that people in their early 40s are happier than 18-year-olds.
Gauging from my own experience, I’d say this research is bang on. Sure, I may have had a practically non-existent body fat ratio at 18 and few real-world responsibilities to tie me down, but was I happier than I am today? No way! Now that I’m 30, you couldn’t pay me to be a teenager or in my early 20s again. Because no banging 20-year-old body or crazy morning-after story is worth trading the confidence your 30s brings.
This new research shatters the commonly held notion that people in mid-life are so miserable they’re prone to mid-life crises. Which gets me thinking — maybe the behaviours we commonly attribute to a mid-life crisis aren’t a crisis at all. Maybe there’s nothing wrong with shaking things up and making some big changes when you hit mid-life.
As the Harvard Business School Review smartly points out: “Midlife is your best and last chance to become the real you.” It looks like we should actually start looking forward to that mid-life crisis.