The Myth of the Mid-Life Crisis, and the Real Search for Fulfillment

THE SEARCH FOR FULFILLMENT by Susan Krauss Whitbourne

by Susan Krauss Whitbourne, author of The Search for Fulfillment: Revolutionary New Research That Reveals the Secret to Long-term Happiness (Ballantine, 2010)

Read Whitbourne’s recent post, “Why We Love Betty White”, on Psychology Today.

It gives me great pleasure to tell you about my book, The Search for Fulfillment, which is the culmination of my life-long search for answers about what causes people to change in their adult years. As a young assistant professor, I dreamed of being able to chart the pathways of development by conducting a longitudinal study. Through a combination of good fortune and planning, and the willing cooperation of hundreds of participants, I was able to complete the study that forms the core of my book.

My goal in writing the book was to shed light on the myriad ways that people change through life while at the same time identifying systematic patterns to characterize that change. As one of the early pioneers in the pedagogy of adult development and aging, I also hope that my book will be a valuable supplement to college courses in the field. By giving students insight into the real changes that adults experience, the book will educate them about development in adulthood. The book also will illuminate the research process for students. My observations about the research participants form an important part of the book. The mystery and excitement that comes along with opening the questionnaires from participants tested 10, 20, and even 35 years earlier is captured in my personal reflections that accompany the stories of the people in my study.

As a scholar in this field, I have sought to educate readers about the importance of separating myths about midlife from the findings based on empirical data. The notion of a “midlife crisis,” long ago debunked as a myth by the scientific evidence on adult development, is one that I tackle head on in this book. I’ve showed why the myth persists but, more importantly, why it is a flawed notion. Along with the midlife crisis, popular psychology portrays adulthood as a series of discrete stages punctuated by decade marker points. In my book, I’ve shown that people develop in all kinds of ways in the years from late adolescence to midlife. I identify five pathways of development, providing numerous examples to illustrate each. I’ve also provided “Action Plans” that show specific ways people can find a more fulfilling pathway if the one they’re on isn’t working for them anymore.

The Search for Fulfillment also has an inspiring message, one with which my students strongly resonate: change is possible at any age. People can achieve their cherished goals no matter how old they are or what they’ve done with their lives so far. I provide examples both from the case studies in my book and the broader area of research on successful aging to show that people’s ability to achieve fulfillment is virtually unlimited. As an instructor of large psychology courses covering the range from the massive introductory level lecture to advanced seminars, I have developed an understanding of the best ways to engage students in the learning process. The Search for Fulfillment will educate them about this very important subject, captivate their imaginations, and inspire them to find their own fulfillment.

Click here to read an excerpt from the book.

Susan Krauss Whitbourne is a pioneer in the study of adult development and has been leading the field for more than thirty years. She received her doctorate in psychology from Columbia University and is currently a professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Whitbourne has been interviewed and cited in numerous articles in publications including The New York Times, Newsweek, Redbook, and Glamour. A licensed psychologist, she lives with her husband in Amherst, Massachusetts.  

Visit the book’s website, which includes a number of interactive features, at:

1 Comment

Filed under Author Essays

One response to “The Myth of the Mid-Life Crisis, and the Real Search for Fulfillment

  1. I like the idea of showing students how research is done. One of the first things I do in teaching Introduction to Psychology is discuss the topic of “What is science?” Most people do not know what science is or how studies are done.

    Also, it is good that the author can show that there are not hard and fast categories as we age, but instead many different kinds of opportunities.

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