Midlife crisis is a term often used very flippantly. A concept that has been the butt of many jokes serving as an attempt to dismiss feelings of existential anxiety and life dissatisfaction.
Dad buys a motorbike, and mum takes up swing dancing, while a friends mum starts wearing the clothes you would’ve on your 18th birthday, and that other friends dad decides he might like to start playing saxophone. We’ve all got a picture in our mind of how it might manifest, but in all seriousness, aside from scripted hollywood depictions that would have us pass it off as reason for laughter, middle age can actually breed some pretty crippling and difficult grounds to navigate.
An American psychologist named Orville Gilbert Brim is the head of a recently concluded 10 year study assessment into successful midlife development. He, along with his team at MacArthur Foundation Research Network have now gathered revelations surrounding the multifaceted nature of the middle aged season. A lot the findings challenge the stereotypes of the midlife crisis as a precursor of menopausal distress and empty-nest syndrome, but what they led to, most surprisingly, was the apparent ambiguity surrounding this phase of life. Dr Brim noted that “midlife – the years between 30 and 70, with 40 to 60 at its core – is the least charted territory in human development.” He affirmed that the majority of social wellbeing research is often done in favour of focusing on the complexities of childhood, adolescence or old age. This inevitably creates a large, unexplored gap in the middle for society to comprise it’s own biases, wrong thinkings and unvalidated premises about.
Before jumping straight to making it a ‘disorder’, or deeming it worthy of a stigmatised label, perhaps we ought to acknowledge the changes we all face throughout life as relatively normal, and maybe even the greatest gifts. Middle age could be just as confusing, liberating, and full of risk and reward as young adulthood and old age. Only it seems we haven’t taken the time to really shine light on the discussion, or developed a guidebook for thriving when the next decade comes knocking at the door of our still mortgaged home.
The average age for a midlife crisis to crop up (according to US studies) is around age 43 for men, and age 44 for women. The reasoning behind these feelings of sudden despair also differ slightly. Men’s focus tends to be more on the regret of lost time resulting in fear of illness, death, and grappling with unfulfilled dreams. While for women it tends to prompt some new form of self exploration; after lifestyle changes enable new opportunities, physical changes begin to limit other ones, and she begins questioning whether or not she has ‘really lived up to the fullest potential.’
According to midlife.com, the common trajectory for uncertainty is said to travel through stages of shock, denial, depression and anger, before fluctuations subside and a point of acceptance is reached. After which there is usually a return to life structures that are similar to previous ones, albeit more refined, focused, and effective. Just like adjusting to any new chapter of life, these then become second nature as eyes are re-opened, this time to the joyous possibilities and potential of the new age and stage one has entered into.
But is this momentary disruption inevitable for everyone?
Essentially what is being described here is in fact an identity crisis, more than a crisis specific to age. Hitting middle age is in some ways not dissimilar to those formative high school years when our ‘original’ identity is explored and set to serve us for the next couple of decades. For those who have children, the experience of identity reorganisation is at an all time high when children, who have up until then been your ‘whole life’, suddenly flee from your care to start a story of their own.
Another factor, that is new to us all, could be navigating an increasingly complex and tech-reliant world. Even more specifically – a heavily tech reliant workplace. “Doing one job and doing it well” was once a wise and stable life goal, and experience and devotion to one chosen career were seen as king. But now as job descriptions shift, and many positions shrink, ‘experience’ can be swept aside, sadly leaving those over 45 with little opportunities and lost in no mans land.
Surveys have revealed that the most highlighted concerns for those approaching middle age are feelings of being separated, misunderstood and alone. However, despite New Zealand being labeled a stoic “she’ll be right” type of nation, it seems we are better at connecting through crisis than we give ourselves credit for…and apparently we are just that little bit happier, too.
In a 2012 New Zealand General Social Survey, 96.2% of NZers believed they had someone outside of their own home they could turn to for compassionate support during times of personal need. The same study documented an estimated 87% of New Zealanders being ‘satisfied’ (54%) or ‘very satisfied’ (33%) with their lives. In a further 2012
Quality of Life Survey, 71% of residents in our six major cities rated themselves as having positive emotional wellbeing also, landing NZ among ‘happy’ countries such as Iceland and Japan.
International research has broken down the pursuit to regaining peace of mind into five categories to boost higher well-being:
give (i.e.: time, resources, thoughtful words)
take notice (i.e.: present moment awareness, mindful gratitude, unplugged time in nature)
All of which are free to us regardless of socioeconomic status, age, race, gender, past, present, or future.
“A self that goes on changing is a self that goes on living” – Virginia Woolf
We posted this quote on our Instagram earlier this week, which speaks of the permanent impermanence we ought to embrace without trepidation. Whatever your stage and whatever your changes may currently be, we hope Societe can be a place for you to take a mental holiday from any confusion you are facing, by sharing new conversations with one another. Because, as the Oxford dictionary says, ‘Society is the aggregate of people living together, in community.’