What causes this dip? Economic speculations concern financial pressures on sandwich generation middle-agers, with costs for mortgages, orthodontists and tuition, as well as the threat of the huge financial demands of an ailing parent. In contrast, psychologists have emphasized the different psychological challenges of different stages of life. Early adulthood is a time of expanding vistas, ambition and promise; stressors are coped with by conquering them. In contrast, healthy old age is when stressors are coped with by accommodating them; there is greater control of negative emotions, and the clutter of acquaintances has been pared down to the actual friends.
Middle age dangles in between, with the dip in well-being full of the poignancy of the human predicament. Plateaus are achieved in time for us to question whether they were worth it, and things that will never be accomplished loom larger, as we simultaneously accept and deny our mortality.
But as we wallow in this sturm und drang, along comes a study that upends this thinking. In a late 2012 paper in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Alexander Weiss of the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and colleagues demonstrated something remarkable: Other ape species also have the midlife dip in well-being.