The midlife crisis is entrenched in American popular culture, but mostly, it doesn't exist. Here, five misconceptions about midlife.
  1. It's time for my midlife crisis.
    Over the past 20 years, researchers have tried to find evidence of a widespread midlife crisis – and failed. They believe only 10 percent of the population suffers such a crisis. What most people refer to as a "midlife crisis" is really a crisis or setback that occurs in midlife, such as losing a spouse, a parent, a job or experiencing a health scare. Most people recover from these setbacks.
  2. My midlife doldrums will last forever.
    Midlife crisis is rare, but midlife ennui is nearly universal. Andrew Oswald at the University of Warwick and other researchers have detected a "U-shaped" happiness curve that seems to afflict people across the globe. (The low point in the U.S. is the mid-40s.) However, almost inevitably you become cheerier in your 50s and continue to grow happier through your 70s. Also, brain studies show that your brain simply becomes happier after 50, as it ignores unhappy news and focuses on the positive.
  3. My brain is becoming mush.
    Yes, you forget the name of your colleague. Yes, you can't remember the telephone number long enough to dial it. But actually, your brain is operating at its peak at midlife. Your processing speed and your "fluid intelligence" – the ability to solve novel problems – begin decreasing in your late 20s. But your "crystallized intelligence" – your knowledge, expertise, wisdom, your ability to navigate your workplace and personal life – continue to grow into your 70s.
  4. My body is going to seed.
    Studies show that while there is some drop in muscle mass as you age, you can slow those changes to a crawl by getting your heart rate up a few times a week. For example, some of the athletes in the National Senior Games (for people 50 and older) swim college-level times. Moreover, exercise is almost an elixir for an aging brain. Studies have found that walking three times a week increased the area of the brain associated with memory – and turned back the brain clock by at least a year.
  5. My marriage is boring and headed for the shoals of divorce.
    Now, this is a real danger: people in middle age divorce so often that the phenomenon has a moniker, the Gray Divorce Revolution. There are several secrets to escaping the marriage slump, but here are three: - Add novelty to your routine. - Try to think as a team. - Focus on building trust, so that your partner becomes your safe harbor, not a source of threat.