Aging

There's Such A Thing As An End-Of-Decade Crisis

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When you turned 29 (or 19, or 49, or 89 for that matter), we bet that wasn't the number on your mind. You were probably thinking how close that brought you to 30—a whole new decade. Did you look back on your life and assess how well you'd lived it until that point? Did that make you want to do something out of the ordinary—even dangerous? You're not alone. Studies show that when you approach a new decade in age, you start to search for meaning. In essence, you have an end-of-decade crisis.

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When You Look Back, Do You Like What You See?

The question that comes up when you're assessing your life until that point is often: what did it all mean? Has your life had purpose? Value? Is the world better off with you in it? According to a 2014 paper published in PNAS by Adam L. Alter and Hal E. Hershfield, when people feel that some part of their life lacks meaning, they respond in one of two ways: adaptively, by doing something that helps them find meaning; or maladaptively, by doing something that submerges them further into meaninglessness.

Related: Despite Their Old Age, "Super-Agers" Have Young Memories

The data bears this out. On the adaptive side, Alter and Hershfield found that people whose ages end in 9 (which they referred to as "9-enders") are more likely to reach for an athletic milestone: they're overrepresented in first-time marathon runners. Among those who have already run a marathon, 9-enders are also more likely to achieve better times that people of other ages, suggesting they trained harder. On the maladaptive side, things aren't so pretty. The 9-enders are also more likely to self-sabotage: they're overrepresented on dating sites that specialize in extramarital affairs, and they have a higher rate of suicide than people of any other age.

Put A Positive Spin On It

So you've turned the big X-9 and find that life lacks meaning. How do you make sure you don't cheat on your partner or deal with suicidal thoughts? According to psychologist Dr. Margaret Rutherford, it helps to give your new decade a "theme." Do you regret not going back to school in your 20s? Make your 30s all about improving your education and skill set. Are you leaving your 30s without many close friends or a lasting romantic relationship? Make your 40s all about connecting with others. "Giving a new decade an initial desired focus helps you enter it with a sense of creativity and positive expectation," says Dr. Rutherford.

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