Is 40 too old to start over

50-60 years

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50–60 years

Satisfaction returns. What is new is the experience of loss

Good times should start now. Life satisfaction reaches a low point in the majority of people in their late 40s in western countries, but then rises again significantly. At the same time, however, the body is now sending a lot of unmistakable signals: the forces decrease faster, the senses become weaker, stress feels even more strenuous, it is increasingly difficult to do several things at the same time. Without training, the muscles break down much faster than before, by several percent per year. A basic rule of age researchers is therefore: From now on you have to do more than before and not less. A certain gap is now growing among people of the same age: with increasing age, the mental and physical well-being of different people clearly diverges. Some feel increasingly old, weak, tired and worn out, while others jump around happily and seemingly ageless and flaunt their youthfulness.

Of 1,000 people with whom a 60-year-old man of today was born at the same time, 896 are still alive: The subject of death now inevitably comes into one's own life and raises questions of meaning, even if for those who have made it this far , life expectancy is steadily increasing.

You have probably already experienced an illness yourself that did not go away after a few days, or you know someone of the same age who "caught" it, who died of a serious illness or a surprising heart attack. Life at this age gives harsh experiences of real loss.

In earlier decades, the focus was on "primary control", the active pursuit of goals. Now it is increasingly about what developmental psychologists call "secondary control": You transform yourself, set new goals when you realize that you can no longer directly control and achieve everything that was once important. If you stick rigidly to the goals of your younger years, the risk of depression and dissatisfaction increases sharply. It is therefore often a decade of resignation or falling into alcohol or depression: "I did everything wrong. My life was pointless. Everyone else is better off than me."

For those who are satisfied with their way of life, the decades of greatest equilibrium begin, the die has been cast, life means well. To live against time would mean to hold on to old goals for a long time, to live with the times, to set new, adapted goals. The brain is plastic enough for that. In this phase of life, many people switch from expansion to maintenance. So it is - literally as well as figuratively - no longer about finally running a marathon in the best time, but about consistently managing to cover ten kilometers twice a week.

Before routines develop into the enemy, they can be broken: drive to new parts of the city or travel to distant regions of the world, switch off the navigation device, create time to learn new things, face life's lies and accept or overcome them. It is becoming more and more likely that the children are now out of the house and that their own parents are no longer alive.

Both can be painful and at the same time open up new possibilities: to reinvent yourself, to develop your own identity, to look for new fields of activity in volunteering or hobby, to intensify relationships with partners and friends. It can be good to make younger friends. To be a good scientist no longer necessarily means to accomplish an ingenious individual achievement, but to supervise young researchers in an ingenious, inspiring way. To be a good manager means to be able to delegate and to develop foresight.

Generation 50-60 info box

What is only now possible

Forget the pill: The average age for menopause is just over 50 years.

What works again

Going abroad as an au pair: So-called "au pair grannies" are in demand. Numerous placement agencies help older people to stay abroad with a family.

Flat share life with peers: In addition to search engines for student flat shares, there are many flat share exchanges for the "50 plus generation" on the Internet. A prominent resident of a senior citizens' flat is Henning Scherf.

What no longer works

To be ordered to the hospital: From the age of 55, women can no longer be obliged to do community service in the event of a defense.

Many people now have great fears of approaching old age, of illness and death. But there are fewer reasons for this than ever before: For many, healthy eating and exercise postpone the radical decline of the body well past their 75th birthday.

For this reason, too, what development psychologists call the "paradox of well-being" is increasingly coming into play: subjective well-being does not inevitably decrease despite advancing aging; according to numerous studies it remains the same or even increases, at least up to the age of 60. After that, under the right conditions, it can remain on a plateau for a long time, how long also depends on your own efforts and on being embedded in a good network of friends and relatives.