Previous studies provided mixed findings of well-being in midlife, so the present study sought to add new dimensions to this area of research by investigating diverse aspects of midlife well-being, including sources of enjoyment and stress. In a national sample of 834 Americans ages 40–60, overall well-being was high, and most participants agreed that their current time of life is “fun and exciting” (71%), a time of freedom (71%), and a time when “anything is possible” (77%). They also regarded themselves as being in a time of life for focusing on themselves (56%) and “finding out who I really am” (55%). However, 65% assessed this time of their lives as stressful (65%), and many agreed that they often feel anxious (39%), depressed (25%), or that “my life is not going well” (27%). Regression analyses revealed no notable variations in well-being by gender, ethnicity, educational attainment, work status, or relationship status. In sum, among Americans in midlife, well-being is generally high even as it coexists with stress and other mental health challenges.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Arnett, J. J. (2015). Emerging adulthood: The winding road from the late teens through the twenties (2nd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.
Blanchflower, D. G., & Oswald, A. J. (2008). Is well-being U-shaped over the life cycle? Social Science and Medicine, 66, 1733–1749.
Blumberg, S. J., & Luke, J. V. (2013). Wireless substitution: Early releaSE from National Health Interview Survey. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Bouchard, G. (2014). The quality of the parenting alliance during the transition to parenthood. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, 46(1), 20–28.
Brim, O. G., Ryff, C. D., & Kessler, R. C. (2004). How healthy are we? A national study of well-being at midlife. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Cheng, T. C., Powdthavee, N., & Oswald, A. J. (2015). Longitudinal evidence for a midlife nadir in human well-being: Results from four data-sets. The Economic Journal, 127(599), 126–142.
Diener, E. (2012). New findings and future directions for subjective well-being research. American Psychologist, 67(8), 590.
Easterlin, R. A. (2006). Life cycle happiness and its sources: Intersections of psychology, economics and demography. Journal of Economic Psychology, 27, 463–482.
Freund, A. M., & Ritter, J. O. (2009). Midlife crisis: A debate. Gerontology, 55, 582–591.
Frijters, P., & Beatton, T. (2012). The mystery of the U-shaped relation between happiness and age. Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, 82, 525–542.
Glenn, N. D. (2009). Is the apparent U-shape of well-being over the life course a result of inappropriate use of control variables? A commentary on Blanchflower and Oswald. Social Science and Medicine, 69, 481–485.
Lachman, M. E., Teshale, S., & Agrigoroaei, S. (2015). Midlife as a pivotal period in the life course: Balancing growth and decline at the crossroads of youth and old age. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 39(1), 20–31.
Lee, L. O., Aldwin, C. M., Kubzansky, L. D., Chen, E., Mroczek, D. K., Wang, J. M., & Spiro, A. (2015). Do cherished children age successfully? Longitudinal findings from the Veterans Affairs Normative Aging Study. Psychology and Aging, 30, 894–910.
Luthar, S. S., & Ciciolla, L. (2016). What it feels like to be a mother: Variations by children’s developmental stages. Developmental Psychology, 52(1), 143–154.
McLean, K. C., & Syed, M. (Eds.) (2014). Oxford handbook of identity development. New York: Oxford University Press.
Morgan, J., Robinson, O., & Thompson, T. (2015). Happiness and age in European adults: The moderating role of gross domestic product per capita. Psychology and Aging, 30, 544–551.
Mroczek, D. K., & Kolanz, C. M. (1998). The effect of age on positive and negative affect: A developmental perspective on happiness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 1333–1349.
National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) (2014). The condition of education, 2014. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from http://www.nces.gov.
Pieterse, A. L., Todd, N. R., Neville, H. A., & Carter, R. T. (2012). Perceived racism and mental health among Black American adults: A meta-analytic review. Journal of CounSEling Psychology, 59(1), 1–9.
Ryff, C. D. (1995). Psychological well-being in adult life. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 4, 99–104. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-8721.ep10772395.
Stone, A. A., & Mackie, C. (2013). Subjective well-being: Measuring happiness, suffering, and other dimension of experience. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
Stone, A. A., Schwartz, J. E., Broderick, J. E., & Deaton, A. (2010). A snapshot of the age distribution of well-being in the United States. PNAS, 107, 9985–9990.
Sutin, A. R., Terracciano, A., Milaneschi, Y., An, Y., Ferrucci, L., & Zonderman, A. B. (2013). The effect of birth cohort on well-being: The legacy of economic hard times. Psychological Science, 24(3), 379–385.
Taylor, P., & Keeter, S. (2010). Millennials: Confident. Connected. Open to change. Retrieved from http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/files/2010/10/millennials-confident-connected-open-to-change.pdf.
United States Census Bureau (2012). State totals: Vintage 2012. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/popest/data/state/totals/2012/.
Weiss, A., King, J. E., Inoue-Murayam, M., Matsuzama, T., & Oswald, A. J. (2012). Evidence for a midlife crisis in great apes consistent with the U-shape in human well-being. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 109, 19949–19952.
Funding for this research was provided by Clark University.
About this article
Cite this article
Arnett, J.J. Happily Stressed: The Complexity of Well-Being in Midlife. J Adult Dev 25, 270–278 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10804-018-9291-3
- Life satisfaction
- Middle adulthood