Our society emphasizes growth and development when we are young.
In fact, extensive research has been done into what development looks like in childhood.
And even as we grow into adulthood, there are growth milestones. Establishing a career, having a family, and buying a house are a few common examples. As people do these things, it feels like they are growing.
However, society has given a lot less attention to growth and development in the second half of life. This is unfortunate because so much richness happens from age 40 on. In fact, our brains keep right on growing and changing.
Understanding this adult development stage can help you deepen your own experience with life.
The Meaning of Life after 40
You are no longer new in your career. Perhaps you have been married and/or divorced. You have had children, and maybe they have even left the home.
It would be pretty common for you to start thinking, “Okay, what now?” In other words, what is the meaning of life as you get older?
Common Adult Developmental Stages
People will each have their own experiences of course. However, there are some common developmental phases that you might go through.
In his book, The Mature Mind: The Power of the Aging Mind, psychiatrist and gerontologist Gene Cohen identifies four common phases.
Phase 1: Midlife Reevaluation
This period is all about reevaluation and exploration. You might think a lot about your own mortality. Or you may want to change how you live your life as you seek a deeper sense of meaning.
People commonly call this phase a “midlife crisis.” However, it’s not always a crisis. You might instead think of it instead as a “midlife quest.”
In fact, your brain changes in such a way that you develop new wisdom. Instead of an outward focus on your work and family, you may turn inward and seek personal meaning. This phase often happens when you are in your forties or fifties.
Phase 2: Liberation
The liberation phase is characterized by the question of: “If not now, then when?” In other words, you know that you are getting older, and you want to experiment with new things.
Your brain continues changing during this time in ways that inspire you to seek novelty. This often happens in your mid-fifties to mid-seventies, and it can coincide with retirement, which offers the perfect opportunity for adventure.
Phase 3: Summing Up
After you have your own adventures, you might enter a phase when you want to focus on sharing your hard-won wisdom with the world around you. This offers a merging between looking inward for meaning and connecting with the outside world.
In other words, this phase, which often happens in the late sixties through the eighties, is a sort of “summing up.” You re-examine your life’s contributions and re-think your own story. The brain changes in ways that support this.
Phase 4: Encore
In the final phase of brain development, changes occur that promote positive emotions. During this phase, you may have a strong desire to simply live well. You may also continue reflecting upon your major life themes and even exploring new variations on those themes.
Moreover, you may celebrate your life. This period often begins in the late seventies and continues through to the end of life.
Changes and Transitions: With Which Phase Do You Identify?
The phase you’re currently in might look just like one of the above. Alternatively, the phases can overlap. Your experience might be a little bit different. However, you will likely pass through some variation of these stages.
As you move from one to the next, think of it as a time of transition. It is a time for a new way of looking at life. Therefore, approach these changes with curiosity and excitement, and you will have a richer experience of the second half of life.
Midlife transitions therapy can help you as you navigate these different phases. You can feel fulfilled at any age—no matter where you are in the stages of your life.
Please, contact me to learn more about how I can help.