A growing number of scientific studies show that adult life-satisfaction starts relatively high when we’re in our teens and twenties but then declines steadily as people age, to reach a low in the 50’s before ratcheting back up in old age. This u-shaped life happiness pattern is explored in a recent paper by economists David Blanchflower and Andrew Oswald titled “Do Humans Suffer a Psychological Low in Mid-Life?”.
Of course the paper deals in averages, so their conclusions do not describe the experiences of every person in an age group. But it seems there is evidence that, on average, humans do experience a low in life-satisfaction during middle age. The intriguing question the authors raise is whether this is a natural part of the life experience.
I think there are more than enough reasons for many people in middle-age to experience low-life satisfaction, so the conclusions should not be surprising. From disappointment with career choice and marriages to the rigours of raising children and the emptiness of becoming empty-nesters; from being forced into an unplanned early retirement to having to find a second career; from caring for aged parents going through dementia or other ailments or the early loss of parents perhaps, to thoughts of one’s own mortality and legacy, there are more than enough reasons for a mid-life low.
Combine any of these circumstances with what seems like an inevitable underlying feeling of urgency that stems from feeling you’re running out of time to get back onto the right path, and it should not be surprising to find mid-lifers having low life-satisfaction (and humming the old Peggy Lee tune “Is that all there is?” perhaps).
But there are also many stories of mid-lifers having wonderful lives, of making fabulous changes to get them living the life they feel is truly right for them.
These, and more, are the kinds of issues and stories I hope to explore on this blog.
I hope you’ll join me.