The midlife crisis has become a pop culture catchphrase, we have seen it depicted in books and movies: middle aged men buying flashy cars or women dating younger men. But does the concept of a midlife crisis actually exist? Psychologist Susan Kraus Whitbourne talked with Katie Couric to debunk the myth of the midlife crisis.
Psychoanalyst Elliot Jacques coined the term “Midlife Crisis” in 1965 to identify a period of dramatic self doubt. But through research, Dr. Krauss Whitborne has found the concept to be “more of a fantasy than reality.” She found that people experience hormonal shifts throughout their life but are built to adjust to life’s changes and challenges. Ultimately, Dr. Krauss Whitborne believes that happiness and age are not related.
Changes in society also lend themselves to ending the so-called plague of the midlife crisis. Our paths are continually more unique than our parents and grandparents. People are getting married later in life, going back to school and changing careers more often than in the past. Life expectancy continues to increase, making pinpointing middle age more difficult. More than ever, there is a sense of optimism in aging.
So why are we so connected to the concept? Krauss Whitborne believes that the concept of a midlife crisis has been mythologized as social crutch and people like to have an excuse for bad behavior. Even people in their twenties claim to suffer from a ‘quarter-life crisis’ because it is easier to label your life stages.
Dr. Krauss Whitborne doesn’t deny that life brings on challenges and periods of self doubt or anxiety, which is natural. She cautions to pay attention to your mental and emotional health and seek professional help if feelings of negativity and hopelessness persist.
Myth or not, people are responsible for their outlook on the world and building a life that is fulfilling for them. Dr. Krauss Whitborne believes that happiness can be found at any age and the key is to finding deeper sources of meaning and purpose in life versus momentary happiness. As she points out in her book, Fulfillment at Any Age, there is a difference between happiness and satisfaction. Satisfaction comes from being a valid part of the world, at any chapter of your life.