After 40 we move the definition of middle-age around, perhaps trying to avoid falling into the emotional dip that is commonly referred to as having mid-life crisis.

The good news is, according to researchers from the University of Alberta, Canada, believe that there is no such thing as a mid-life crisis. So what is causing us to buy sports cars, big bikes, date younger women, or (gasp) dye our hair?

According to the results of the 25-year study we experience an increase in our levels of happiness in our teens and early twenties, but that happiness doesn’t necessarily dip as we grow older and reach mid-life.

To research more about happiness levels as we age, and to observe the ups and downs of happiness at different ages and life stages in the same individual, the team of researchers followed two groups of participants for up to 25 years. A group of high school seniors were followed 18 to 43, and a group of university seniors were followed from 23 to 37.

Are we less happy when we reach middle-age and need a sports car to cheer us up? Photo: AFP

Are we less happy when we reach middle-age and need a sports car to cheer us up? 

At different stages during the study the participants were asked questions such as ‘How happy are you with your life right now?’ The researchers did not ask for examples of happiness; participants simply answered using a rating scaled from ‘not very happy’ to “very happy.” The researchers also did not give any definitions of happiness to the participants.

The results showed that after leaving school and university, happiness levels increased right through to the 30s in both samples, showing that happiness is not only for the young. And only a slight decrease in happiness was seen by age 43 and only in the ‘high school’ sample, going against the myth of the mid-life crisis.

tv american beauty

However there are other factors that can influence happiness levels such as marital status, unemployment and physical health. Also levels of happiness can differ in individuals based on these factors.

“If I’m divorced and unemployed, and I have poor health at age 43, I’m not going to be happier than I was at age 18,” says Nancy Galambos, one of the study’s authors, “It’s important to recognise the diversity of experiences as people move across life.”

The team believe that the results are important as happiness is key to our well-being, with happier people known to be healthier and live longer. The Canadian government is even collecting information about happiness as part of Statistics Canada’s General Social Survey questionnaire.

“It’s seems trite, ‘just be happy’, but behind that are the policies shaping society,” says Harvey Krahn, another of the study’s co-authors, “The policy implications of the study are about changing the conditions that cause grief, like being unemployed, like losing your home, inequality, being a refugee, crime, addictions – these things will make you less happy, age notwithstanding.”

The study was published in the journal Developmental Psychology. – AFP Relaxnews