Midlife: Half-Empty, Or Half-Full?

Photo of a glass tumbler of water half full
Image credit: photo by manu schwendener on Unsplash.

Anyone following the tabloids this past week has heard about Charlie Sheen and what’s been described as his “midlife crisis.” Although entourages of adult film stars, $20,000 drug binges, and cursing out one’s boss in front of the national media aren’t exactly common for you or I, the idea of a midlife crisis has gained momentum.

Redefining Mid-life

The term “midlife crisis” does not refer to a diagnosable condition, but rather a popular idea that has run rampant in television and movies.

A midlife crisis normally occurs between the ages of 40 and 50. It is connected to marriage boredom, body changes, career stagnancy, and major life changes, such as death of a parent, or children leaving the house. The belief is that this crisis time is related to a fear of a “death spiral:” that the years until the end of your life are less than the years you’ve lived already.

Common depictions of midlife crises include:

  • Quitting one’s job.
  • Getting a sudden divorce.
  • Buying expensive “toys” (such as sports cars), and ...
  • Completely changing one’s role within the family dynamic.
    • Mothers may become more self-orienting, feeling they have “paid their dues” after years of childrearing.
    • Men may try to act like “one of the guys” with his children.

When people reach midlife, they reevaluate their lives:

  • What dreams did they abandon?
  • What has been the meaning to their lives so far?
  • Are they happy?

These questions often lead to uncomfortable feelings of dissatisfaction. These adults hear the sound of the clock ticking, and decide to take some kind of action to revitalize their lives.

The Potential For Changes

This close evaluation of our life’s trajectory opens doorways in midlife to both happiness and depression. With added self-awareness, one can shift their entire perspective. It can be an opportunity to grow and redefine yourself.

Depression in midlife is often related to feeling like you are losing your sense of self:

  • If you have been a mother, wife, and caretaker for the past several decades, and your children move out, it can leave you feeling lost.
  • If you were the faithful husband who dedicated himself to his job, and realize that you sacrificed your other dreams for your work, you may feel like you’ve missed out on something important.

Midlife does not mean you have to go into crisis mode, however. It allows you the opportunity to look closely at your desires and needs, and who you are. The person you become at 50 is much different than who you were at 25, and much different than who you will be at 75.

With Age Comes Happiness

American philosopher William James was once credited as saying, “How pleasant is the day when we give up striving to be young—or slender.”

Reaching midlife offers the opportunity for acceptance. It is not the realization that you “missed out,” but a chance to start doing what makes you happy:

  • Reevaluate your needs and desires.
  • Strengthen or shift your relationships with others.
  • Accept who you are and where you’ve been, and appreciate all that you’ve done so far.

You don’t have to pull a Charlie Sheen to make changes when you hit your 40s. Many Baby Boomers who have recently reached midlife report volunteer work as adding fulfillment and joy to their lives. There are many ways to find fulfillment and joy in the middle of your life - without becoming a tabloid sensation.


Midlife can be a time full of changes. The help of a psychotherapist can be important in sorting through these changes and becoming the person you want to be. Call Nassau Guidance & Counseling today to be matched with a therapist in one of our 48 separate office locations on Long Island.

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