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Middle-Aged And Having A Ball

(As reported 2/16/99)
It's what we say to people of a certain age: You're not getting older, you're getting better. It may be trite, but now researchers believe it may also be true.

The latest and the largest study of its kind shows that most people in mid-life are not having a crisis. They're having a ball, reports CBS News Correspondent Richard Schlesinger.

"The middle years of life are characterized by people feeling comfortable with life in ways that people who are younger cannot achieve," says Ronald Kessler, one of the study's authors.

The MacArthur Foundation studied 8,000 Americans for 10 years and found that only about a tenth say they're having a mid-life crisis.

"I'm just very comfortable with who I am," says Pat Black, age 55. "I've really enjoyed my life."

These are people who have lived through hula hoops and Howdy Doody. Now they've reached the mountain top, after the uphill climb of youth, but before the downhill slide of old age.

"The areas in which they were happiest were with work and with their marriage relationships, followed by health," says Margie Lachman, a psychologist.

There's lots of good news for the middle-aged in the study. Women do not dread menopause. Both men and women feel younger than their years.

But there is some bad news, too. The study shows things are going so well that it's easy for these Americans to ignore potential health risks. That could mean trouble for them when middle age surrenders to old age.

"For people in mid-life the bias tends to be that they overestimate how healthy they are and how long this good period of life is going to continue, Kessler says.

The findings of this study contradict what has become a widespread belief that we are happiest when we are youngest—that the middle ages are the dark ages.

"Our society, our culture, associates mid-life with crisis," Lachman says. "And we found that there's only a small percentage of people who said they have or expect to have a mid-life crisis."

These findings mean all of us who find ourselves in mid-life can relax a little. We might not need vitamins and vegetables and Viagra to keep feeling good. We might just need another study like this one.

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