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We all know the cliché. You reach a certain age and suddenly you’re questioning all your life choices and making rash decisions about red sportscars. Traditionally, a midlife crisis hits in your 40s, but new research shows a changing emotional landscape.
Of the 5000 people surveyed for the Australian Senior’s 100 Year Lifespan Report, a third say they have personally experienced a life crisis in their 50s or 60s. More than half (54%) believe the midlife crisis has shifted to a later stage and is increasingly being replaced with the ‘three-quarter life crisis’.
In fact, 40% of older Australians admit to experiencing a three-quarter life crisis and more than two in five (46%) say they have seen others go through one.
Vanessa, 58, from NSW, watched her friend Sam, now 62, face down his demons not long after his 60th birthday. “Sam always seemed a happy person but suddenly we were having long chats about the meaning of life and he was full of regrets,” she says. “He knew he had been a workaholic most of his life and, while he was financially comfortable, he felt he had lost his way somehow and that his relationships had suffered. It took him a while to get back on his feet emotionally.”
University of Melbourne psychology professor Nick Haslam says the three-quarter life crisis trend is mainly due to the increase in life expectancy.
“A lot of people personally experienced a stage of reassessing their priorities in their late 50s and 60s where, because they’re living longer, because they started their families later, because their work life is maybe coming to an end, they’re reassessing what they want out of life,” says Professor Haslam.
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“A few decades ago, people could anticipate having relatively few years post-retirement, but now as people approach the traditional retirement age of 65, they have a lot more life to look forward to. It makes sense that more of us rethink our direction and priorities. With improved health, it’s also now true that people approaching retirement are often healthy and active and have more options available to them.”
Despite the negative connotations we usually associate with a life crisis, almost seven in ten (67%) say that reflecting on and re-evaluating our lives is a healthy transition to go through.
“The three-quarter life crisis can simply be a healthy period of questioning your way of life and trying to decide on how best to use your remaining years,” Professor Haslam says. “You might decide to develop new hobbies and interests, further your education, travel, tick items off your bucket list, and so on. That is almost certainly a good thing if the alternative is just continuing along the same path without reflecting on it and perhaps remaining stuck in a rut.”
Not everybody will experience a three-quarter life crisis but, for those who do, it can be unpleasant and involve serious questioning of past life choices and doubts about the future. Professor Haslam’s advice is to treat this time of life as an opportunity rather than a threat.
“Living longer gives us opportunities to continue to grow, learn and have experiences that previous generations didn’t have,” he says. “It is a chance to think seriously about how to make the most of those opportunities by reflecting on what we truly value. So, rather than getting bogged down in resignation or sadness, this is a time to seize the day and take active control of the shape your future will take.”
How to survive a three-quarter life crisis
Common signs include…
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- Feelings of depression, remorse, resentment and anxiety
- Questioning your achievements and life choices
- Worrying about mortality and the legacy you will leave behind
- Comparing yourself to others negatively and dwelling on regrets.
What you can do…
- Know you’re not alone – 32% of Australians have experienced a three-quarter life crisis and 46% say they have seen others go through it
- Share your feelings and consider talking about your concerns with a life coach, counsellor or trusted friend
- Think about your values and make a list of all the things you’d like to achieve in your remaining years
- Remember this is ultimately a healthy process to work through.