Toronto | The ‘mid-life crisis’ theory which predicts that happiness declines the most from the early 20s to middle age may be a myth, a new study suggests.
For half a century, the accepted research on happiness has shown our lives on a U-shaped curve, punctuated by a low point that we have come to know as the mid-life crisis.
Today, the mid-life crisis is a generally accepted phenomenon, fodder for sitcoms and the subject of advertising propaganda the world over, researchers said.
However, based on data drawn from two longitudinal studies, researchers from the University of Alberta in Canada challenge the existence of the theory.
Contrary to previous cross-sectional studies of life-span happiness, this new longitudinal data suggests happiness does not stall in midlife, but instead is part of an upward trajectory beginning in our teens and early twenties.
This study is far more reliable than the research that came before it, researchers said. If you want to see how people change as they get older, you have to measure the same individuals over time, said Harvey Krahn from University of Alberta. The team followed two cohorts – one of Canadian high school seniors from ages 18-43 and the other a group of university seniors from ages 23-37.
Both showed happiness increased into the 30s, with a slight downturn by age 43 in the high school sample. After accounting for variations in participants’ lives, such as changes in marital status and employment, both samples still demonstrated a general rise in happiness after high school and university.