When Elliot Jacques coined the term mid-life crisis 40 years ago, the average lifespan was 70 and mid-life came at the youthful age of 35. With encroaching mortality starring them squarely in the face, Jacques argued it was natural for people to respond in some extreme way, such as the need for a flashy sports car or having extra-marital affairs.
But now that people are living longer than ever before, that proverbial line in the sand is being drawn in new and more productive ways says Carlo Strenger, a professor in Tel Aviv University's Department of Psychology. He cites empirical evidence that adults really do have a second act.
For starters, Strenger dismisses as myth that the years between 40 and the early 60s means adapting to diminished personal and societal expectations. He believes as people live longer, fuller lives we can now cast aside that stereotype and start thinking in more relative terms of a mid-life transition rather than mid-life crisis.
“If you make fruitful use of what you've discovered about yourself in the first half of your life,” Dr. Strenger argues, “the second half can be the most fulfilling.”
When considering the typical lifespan, most people make many of their most important life decisions before they really know who they are. By age 30, most Americans have already married, decided where to live, bought their first home, and chosen their career. “But at 30, we still have the better part of our adult years ahead of us,” he says.
With extended life expectancy, along with better health practices, education, and a greater emphasis on emotional self-awareness and personal fulfillment comes a reverse probability of suffering a mid-life crisis.
Add to that years of neurological research that has disproved the notion that the brain simply deteriorates after age 40, he says. In fact, research shows the your brain is, in many aspects, functioning a higher capacity than it did during your 20s, and it creates a more optimistic outlook: “A rich and fruitful life after 50 is a much more realistic possibility.”
How can you transition smoothly to the best years of your life? Professor Strenger offers these four tips: