From time to time, we read about mid-life crises. Is it real? When does it begin? There is some truth to it, and we will look at the evidence. We know that kids are usually happy but can we be happy in our old age? Few facts emerge from the study done by Blanchflower and Oswald in a 2007 paper. They studied half a million US and Europeans and found that from the age of around 18, we become gradually less happy, reaching a nadir in our 40s. So, happiness is a U-Shaped curve when we are happy as a child unhappy in our youth, and somewhere after 55 years of age, we start to find happiness.
The U-shaped curve remains when you control for birth cohort, physical health, income, number of children, marital status, and education.
One would ask why? Most scientists think that we are still trying to find out who we are, the stress of work and relationships is at its peak, competition is fierce, and most significantly, having kids. How can having children makes us unhappy? It may not apply to all circumstances but does apply in some instances. On closer inspection, it seems that children generally affect well-being more negatively for single parents, divorced mothers, when the children are over three years, if the family has recently moved, if the family is poor or if the child is sick and needs more than average care. This is consistent with theorizing that children put demands on day-to-day positive emotions (happiness). Still, nonetheless, people consider them an essential part of their overall well-being and bring life satisfaction.
On the other end, why are we happier in the 5th -7thth decade? Aging brings wisdom, forgiving, compassion, and gratitude. With age, the focus turns away from social competition to social connection. As the end of life nears, priorities shift towards savoring life, love, and this present moment together.
The U-shaped curve may not apply to all and some undeveloped countries. It also goes out of the window when life throws a curveball in health, work, relationship, death, or finances.
So, brace for your midlife crisis and hang on. Do not do anything drastic and wait to evolve to be happy with yourself.
Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
Tarak Vasavada, MD