Researchers have discovered an upward trend in happiness that begins at middle age — a finding totally counter to common beliefs.

If you think that red sports cars, daredevil extreme sports and thoughts of plastic surgery are signs of a midlife crisis, think again.

A long-term study that measured happiness as an indicator of well being found an upward trend toward happiness that begins at middle age. Another study confirmed that most people attribute their self-reported midlife crises to major life events rather than aging.

Even so, middle age is a time of self-reflection. Let’s face it: looking back at missed opportunities and regrets can be sobering. We think that youth has passed us by, which can trigger feelings of stress and anxiety.

But this time of reflection also can be liberating — it gives you the opportunity to reassess your life and make positive changes. Many evaluate their accomplishments and reset their goals. Others embark on a completely new path.

Whether this period of reflection has left you feeling melancholy or exhilarated, the key to getting through it is understanding when a midlife transition is leading to positive change or depression.

Your Reaction to Life Events Is Key To Your Outlook

According to one study, traumatic life events can cause anxiety and depression. Feelings like these are common as you wrestle with the challenges that come with middle age – health changes, the death of a parent, a career plateau and realizing that your time is limited. Yet understanding what phase you are in life and maintaining a positive outlook can keep you moving forward instead of sinking into depression.

How can you best handle transitions in life?

  • Consider the end of certain roles as opportunities to create a new identity. Having a child move out of the house or changing jobs is the chance to recreate yourself.
  • Adapt your expectations. If you’re having trouble walking the course while playing golf, switch to a cart. With modifications, you can keep doing the activities you love — and with good reason. Doctors such as Giselle M. Petzinger, MD, assistant professor of neurology at USC Neurosciences of the Keck School of Medicine of USC, hypothesize that skill-based exercise (such as tennis) help stave off cognitive impairment.
  • Stay active. Even when you’re feeling down, moving your body will boost your endorphins and help keep your mind clear.
  • Understand that feeling down and being depressed are not the same. This checklist provided by the CDC can help you determine if you need professional help.
  • Stay connected. The worst thing you can do is isolate yourself. Instead, don’t hesitate to talk about how you feel with family and friends. You will be surprised by how many people have experienced the same feelings of uncertainty, and they can offer you advice on how to move forward.

This, Too, Shall Pass

Going through a phase is not just something that happens with children – adults do it, too. So, if you are in the middle of a life transition, remember that a happier you most likely awaits on the other side.

One study concluded that happiness is a U-Curve. Satisfaction declines with age, starting in the mid-20s before bottoming out somewhere in the mid-40s to early 50s. Subsequently, maybe surprisingly, contentment with life increases again, often reaching a higher level than in young adulthood.

In reality, the U-curve tells a story of natural transition to a new equilibrium. So cheer up and look ahead. The midlife experience should be viewed positively as a time for personal growth, an experience that can be greatly beneficial and rewarding.

By Heidi Tyline King

If you are local to Southern California and would like to discuss your health and well-being with a health care professional, call (800)USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or visit www.keckmedicine.org/request-an-appointment/ to schedule an appointment.