The Real Roots of Midlife Crisis are in the U-Curve | The Atlantic

The Real Roots of Midlife Crisis; Jonathan Rauch; In The Atlantic; 2014-12.
Teaser: What a growing body of research reveals about the biology of human happiness—and how to navigate the (temporary) slump in middle age

Jonathan Rauch is

  • a contributing editor of The Atlantic
  • a contributing editor of the National Journal
  • a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

tl;dr → 6200 words; the U-Curve, the happiness U-curve, happiness economics, wisdom research


  • the middle age is defined as “the 40s into the early 50s”
  • Donald Richie
  • Richard Easterlin
    • University of Pennsylvania
      • 1970s
    • University of Southern California
      • contemporary
  • Happiness Economics
  • David Blanchflower
    • labor economics
    • Dartmouth
  • Andrew Oswald
    • labor economics
    • University of Warwick
  • Carol Graham
    • developmental economics
    • Brookings Institution
  • median nadir, age 46
  • Carol Graham, Milena Nikolova; A Study. That. Shows.; uncited, undated.
  • Caveats
    • occurs (mostly) in wealthy countries
    • only “adjusting” for variables
      • income
      • marital status
      • employment
  • Carol Ryff
    • psychologist
    • director, Institute on Aging, University of Wisconsin.
  • Claim, due to Blanchflower, Oswald
    <concept>aging from age 20 to age 45 entails a loss of happiness equivalent to one-third the effect of involuntary unemployment.</concept>
  • Andrew Oswald, Terence Cheng, Nattavudh Powdthavee; A Study. That. Shows; uncited; undated.
    tl;dr → found the U-shaped curve in 4 longitudinal data sets.
  • David Blanchflower, Andrew Oswald; A Study. That. Shows. uncited; undated
    tl;dr → a hill-shaped pattern in the use of antidepressants, peaking in people’s late 40s, doubling the likelihood of using antidepressants.
  • Andrew Oswald, et al. (4x others); A Study. That. Shows; uncited, 2012.
    tl;dr → find the U-Curve in chimpanzees and orangutans via zookeeper interviews.
  • Lifecycle Model
    due to an anonymous 2x friends of the author

    • 20s → exciting
    • 30s → hard work, steady rewards
    • 40s → surprises, problems, setbacks.
    • 50s → better
  • Laura Carstensen, et al. (7x others); A. Study. That. Shows; uncited; 2011.
    tl;dr → <quote>the peak of emotional life may not occur until well into the seventh decade <snip/> often met with disbelief in both the general population and the research community,</quote> <quote>As people age and time horizons grow shorter, people invest in what is most important, typically meaningful relationships, and derive increasingly greater satisfaction from these investments.</quote>
  • Elaine Wethington
    • professor
    • human development and sociology
    • Cornell
  • Andrew Oswald, quoted.
  • Hannes Schwandt
    • is young
    • economist
    • Center for Health and Wellbeing, Princeton University
    • A Study. That. Shows; uncited, undated.
      tl;dr → German longitudinal survey, with data from 1991 to 2004
      <concept>So youth is a period of perpetual disappointment, and older adulthood is a period of pleasant surprise. </concept>

      • young people overestimate how happy they will be 5 years later
      • old people underestimate how happy they will be 5 years later
      • middle people have two effects
        tend to feel both disappointed and pessimistic, a recipe for misery.

        • satisfaction with life is declining (that’s the U-curve, which manifested itself clearly)
        • expectations were also by then declining (in fact, they were declining even faster than satisfaction itself). middle-aged people
      • <quote>This finding, supports the hypothesis that the age U-shape in life satisfaction is driven by unmet aspirations that are painfully felt during midlife but beneficially abandoned and felt with less regret during old age.</quote>
  • Dilip V. Jeste
    • is distinguished
    • psychiatrist
    • professor, University of California at San Diego
    • past president, American Psychiatric Association
    • a wall full of awards; a paragraph of recitals.
    • 2x Studies. That. Show
      • 2006
      • 2013
    • wisdom research
  • Lisa Eyler
    • clinical psychologist
    • University of California, San Diego (UCSD)
  • wisdom research
    • defined: <quote>The traits of the wise tend to include compassion and empathy, good social reasoning and decision making, equanimity, tolerance of divergent values, comfort with uncertainty and ambiguity. And the whole package is more than the sum of the parts, because these traits work together to improve life not only for the wise but also for their communities. Wisdom is pro-social. (Has any society ever wanted less of it?) </quote>
    • <quote> psychological screening test for wisdom contains 39 quite diverse questions; psychologists at UCSD are working on reducing the number to a more manageable dozen</quote>
    • an emergent property
  • Dilip Jeste, Lisa Eyler
    • conducted brain-imaging experiment in an fMRI machine
      observing compassion (which is an element of wisdom)
    • subject
      • age 71
      • female
      • business coach
      • pseudonym: J. (just the initial)
  • Unnamed authors (German); “Don’t Look Back in Anger! Responsiveness to Missed Chances in Successful and Nonsuccessful Aging,” In Some Venue; 2012; landing.
    tl;dr → old people have a reduced regret response. The regret response is defined as feeling unhappy about things one can’t change.
  • “Young people just have more negative feelings,” attributed to Elaine Wethington.
  • “Young people are miserable at regulating their emotions,” attributed to Laura Carstensen.
  • Old people show more spirituality, to offset decline in reasoning, due to Dilip Jeste.
  • Gail Sheehy; Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life, 1974.
    tl;dr → parable of the midlife crisis of a man
  • Elaine Wethington; A Study. that. Shows; uncited; 2000.
    tl;dr→ 1/4 Americans have experienced a midlife crisis; there is stigma attached to the “crisis” concept.
  • Hannes Schwandt, is quoted.
  • Andrew Oswald, is quoted.


Via: Carol Graham, Milena Nikolova; work uncited; undated; based on Gallup polling, United States.

Via: backfill.

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