In American Beauty (1999), Kevin Spacey stars as a depressed middle-aged man who suffers a midlife crisis after falling in love with his daughter’s best friend. This movie helped popularize many of the iconic images we now associate with the midlife crisis – buying a flashy car, vanity and trying to be relevant again.
It is believed that the midlife crisis is brought about when one starts to examine one’s life circumstances. Their health, career and relationships. How satisfied are they with their current condition and how to improve or rework them. And it seems that even apes experience midlife crisis.
The midlife crisis is usually triggered by a period of stress or depression. And women might be more susceptible to it due to life experiences which are unique to women such as pregnancy and menopause.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, most life experiences attributed to depression are unique to women, such as post-partum changes, infertility, and hormonal fluctuation. Evidence has shown that people suffering from depression have different brain chemistry which is altered by hormones that control emotions and mood. These hormones are particularly heightened during certain times in a women’s life, including postpartum period and menopause.
In addition, it seems that most people experience a lull in their 40s-50s. When scholars started studying the “science” of happiness, they noticed a recurrent pattern that is now known as the U-curve:
“Whatever sets of data you looked at,” Blanchflower told me in a recent interview, “you got the same things”: life satisfaction would decline with age for the first couple of decades of adulthood, bottom out somewhere in the 40s or early 50s, and then, until the very last years, increase with age, often (though not always) reaching a higher level than in young adulthood. The pattern came to be known as the happiness U-curve.
However, although most people seem to experience this nadir in their lives, how badly their happiness dips is dependent on a slew of other factors besides age such as income, marital status, employment. For example, it appears that people in wealthier countries tend to be more dis-satisfied and experience a greater deal of “unhappiness”.
And then there’s the quarter life crisis. But I’ll save that for another post.