Put away the Porsche catalogue, hold the tattooist’s needle and stop compiling your bucket list. The midlife crisis is over. Or rather it has been overstated.
While previous studies have shored up the depressing notion that we are most miserable in midlife, research revealed last week by the University of Alberta, blew that idea out of the water.
By measuring the happiness levels of the same group of adults from the age of eighteen into their forties, the researchers found that, rather than falling off a cliff at forty, happiness levels continue to rise. We are actually happier in our early forties than in our angst-ridden teens and twenties.
Lead researcher, psychologist Nancy Galambos, explained that while we have previously seen early adulthood as a time of freedom and fun, in fact, for twenty-somethings there is ‘A lot of uncertainty. But by middle age, ‘a lot of people have worked that out and are quite satisfied.’
I think they’re onto something. ‘Fab at Forty’ once seemed like a trite piece of greetings card fiction, a consolatory pat on the head to disguise the awful truth: the Fun Stops Here.
I certainly bought into that idea as I limbered up to celebrate my mile-stone birthday. Conditioned by sitcom stereotypes to believe that middle age meant stress, beige clothing (or too much leopard print), creaking joints and evaporating joie de vivre, I was frankly terrified.
But having reached the other side of the ‘forty mountain’ two years ago, most of those fears have proved unfounded.
True, I’m a country mum rather than the corporate glamazon I once, briefly, aspired to being, but I’m happy with what I’ve got.
Of course, mid-life isn’t without its stresses – work, childrearing and mortgage-paying – all bringing pressures to bear. But I look around and see people more secure in themselves and nicer for it. By forty-odd we’ve all received some setbacks and losses, yet we’ve survived and it makes us more resilient. ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff,’ is the mid-life mantra – although okay, we may not always follow it but it’s a good guiding principle.
True, there are still careers in which women, in particular, can find themselves side-lined in their forties, a cruel waste of talent and experience. But equally many people use midlife as a time of opportunity, a chance to go give it a go. ‘If not now, then when?’ At forty-plus, we still have energy and optimism, but we’ve got hard-won experience too. There are other reasons to be cheerful you’ve hit middle-age too..
In your twenties and thirties you were, quite likely, hoping to find and identify The One. Even if you weren’t itching to get a ring on your finger, you probably spent far too much of your spare time weighing up dates as potential life-mates. By middle age, most people have settled down into the calm and stability of a long-term relationship. And while you may think middlife is traditionally a ti;e for adultery and divorce, the risk of divorce is actually highest in the first ten years of marriage.
So if you married in your early thirties, by the time you hit your tin anniversary in your early forties, chances are, you’re already heading for calmer waters.
Reggie Perrin faked his own death to escape his tedious executive existence, but, if you are lucky, by forty-odd, the years of slog are starting to pay off and you are now better paid and have more control over your life than when you were a mere drone.
Or you may have jettisoned a job that made you miserable and – with the experience and wherewithal accrued over two decades – started your own business, embarked on a PhD or retrained. Okay, we may not have achieved all our youthful dreams and ambitions at forty – but the ups and downs of life have sanded off our sharper edges, we’re less prickly, happier to celebrate others’ success rather than looking over our shoulders.
Friends and relationships
The best things about middle age, is that we stop worrying quite so much about what other people think of us. We become less needy, we prune our social network, prioritising our closest friends, rather than those we feel we ought to see, but have multiple food intolerances and devil children who smear your best lipstick on the walls. We also learn how to stop accepting every invitation, like a D list celebrity. When someone asks us to join a book club or belly-dancing class we can Just Say No if we don’t want to go.
Health and fitness
The kind of hedonistic lifestyle that seemed cool in your twenties – serial hangovers, CSS (Cheap Savoury Snacks) and no exercise – no longer cuts it at forty. While we can’t all lay claim to derrieres as pert Kylie’s or action-man abs, many of us are in better shape than we were twenty years ago.
Men who, mid-thirties, were nursing paunches have suddenly gone from dad-bods to lycra-clad athlets overnight. Women who once couldn’t run for a bus without wheezing are signing up for triathlons and Tough Mudders. Although, granted, we regress occasionally and, yes, pay for it with medieval hangovers.
Not only are we in better shape, past forty we’ve worked out what suits us, and have the budget to sort out things that bother us, such as fixing wonky teeth.
Now is the time to invest in decent make-up (women) and start trimming your eyebrows (men). It’s not vanity,it’s about sanity. You can be more daring about fashion than in your cash-strapped, time-poor twenties and thirties. Short skirts or leather trousers don’t have to scream mutton – though there are still some no-go areas, such as playsuits or plaits. You’ll look like Miss Trunchbull, not Taylor Swift. And cargo pants for men. They don’t work for Jude Law. They won’t work for you.