YES, THE MIDLIFE crisis is a real phenomenon. It seems happiness through life may be U-shaped. According to some—though not all—studies, most of us start our adult lives feeling pretty happy. But things deteriorate through our 30s, we often hit bottom in our 40s and then our happiness rebounds from there. In fact, our later years can be among the happiest times in our life.
What’s going on here? It may be that our 40s are relatively unhappy because we’re under substantial stress as we juggle children and work responsibilities, while perhaps also helping elderly parents. As we get into our 50s, the pressure starts to subside.
Alternatively, maybe our deteriorating happiness through our 30s and 40s reflects a realization that we won’t achieve our youthful ambitions, our accomplishments won’t be all that notable and we won’t make much of a mark on the world. We eventually come to terms with this, and that’s when our happiness rebounds.
Whatever the reason for this phenomenon, it has practical implications. To make sure you don’t reach your 40s feeling financially trapped, try to save diligently as soon as you enter the workforce. That will get you on track for retirement, because you’ll enjoy decades of investment compounding, and you may be able to avoid some of the financial anxiety that consumes others throughout their adult lives.
By starting to save early, you might also give yourself options that can ease any midlife unhappiness, such as the financial flexibility to change careers. We are often happiest when we’re engaged in activities that we’re passionate about and that we think are important. If you save diligently, while also keeping your fixed living costs low, you may have the freedom later in life to work for a smaller paycheck but greater satisfaction.
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