Happiness Begins at Fifty

Happiness researchers have confirmed the existence of the midlife crisis beyond popular myth, and they have developed theories for why our contentment with life follows a "U-curve".

Happiness, difficult to quantify, was long considered immeasurable by scientists and therefore beyond the scope of their profession. In the last two decades, however, that has changed. Happiness studies is now a burgeoning field, no doubt due to our collective desire to achieve happiness. It has also been embraced by the scientific community.


In recent years, happiness researchers have confirmed the existence of the midlife crisis beyond popular myth, and they have developed theories for why our contentment with life follows a "U-curve", bottoming out in our 40s and picking up again in our 50s. This dip in happiness, the so-called midlife crisis, often has to do with our immersion in professional life and a preoccupation with material wealth. 

A flagship study, completed in 2011 by Stanford University psychologist Laura Carstensen, explains what changes as we age:

"'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.' Midlife is, for many people, a time of recalibration, when they begin to evaluate their lives less in terms of social competition and more in terms of social connectedness."

If you're in your forties and feeling low, you are having a normal experience. You are not in crisis. Midlife crises begin when individuals start acting on irrational feelings of dissatisfaction, grasping at short-term solutions from spending splurges to infidelities that can really wreck happiness over the long term.

As Robert Butler, President of the International Longevity Center, says in his Big Think interview, the aging generation defies stereotype: they are motivated, mentally sharp, learning new things, and generally quite happy.

​There are two kinds of failure – but only one is honorable

Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.

Big Think Edge
  • Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
  • At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
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Is this why time speeds up as we age?

We take fewer mental pictures per second.

(MPH Photos/giphy/yShutterstock/Big Think)
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  • The complexities of grownup neural pathways are no match for the direct routes of young brains.
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Trauma in childhood leads to empathy in adulthood

It's not just a case of "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger."

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  • A new study suggests children who endure trauma grow up to be adults with more empathy than others.
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Why are so many objects in space shaped like discs?

It's one of the most consistent patterns in the unviverse. What causes it?

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  • Spinning discs are everywhere – just look at our solar system, the rings of Saturn, and all the spiral galaxies in the universe.
  • Spinning discs are the result of two things: The force of gravity and a phenomenon in physics called the conservation of angular momentum.
  • Gravity brings matter together; the closer the matter gets, the more it accelerates – much like an ice skater who spins faster and faster the closer their arms get to their body. Then, this spinning cloud collapses due to up and down and diagonal collisions that cancel each other out until the only motion they have in common is the spin – and voila: A flat disc.