Put away the Porsche catalogue, hold the tattooist's needle at bay and stop compiling your bucket list. The midlife crisis is over. Or rather, it is overstated. While previous studies have shored up the depressing notion that we are most miserable in midlife, research revealed last month by the University of Alberta blew that idea out of the water.
By measuring the happiness levels of the same group of adults from the age of 18 into their forties, the researchers found that, rather than falling off a cliff at 40, happiness levels continue to rise. We are actually happier in our early forties than in our angst-ridden teens and twenties.
The lead researcher, psychologist Nancy Galambos, explained that while we have previously seen early adulthood as a time of freedom and fun, in fact, for twentysomethings there is "a lot of uncertainty". But by middle age, "a lot of people have worked that out and are quite satisfied".
I think they're on to something. "Fab at 40" once seemed like a trite piece of greeting card fiction, a consolatory pat on the head to disguise the awful truth: the Fun Stops Here. I certainly bought into that idea as I limbered up to celebrate my milestone birthday. Conditioned by sitcom stereotypes to believe that middle age meant stress, beige clothing (or too much leopard-print), creaking joints and evaporating joie de vivre, I was frankly terrified.
New lease on life
But having reached the other side of the "40 mountain" two years ago, most of those fears have proved unfounded. True, I'm a country mum rather than the corporate glamazon I once, briefly, aspired to being, but I'm happy with what I've got.
Of course, midlife isn't without its stresses - work, child-rearing and mortgage-paying. But I look around and see people more secure in themselves and nicer for it. By 40-odd we've all received some setbacks and losses, yet we've survived and it makes us more resilient. "Don't sweat the small stuff" is the midlife mantra.
True, there are still careers in which women, in particular, can find themselves sidelined in their forties, a cruel waste of talent and experience. But equally many people use midlife as a time of opportunity, a chance to give it a go: "If not now, then when?". At 40-plus, we still have energy and optimism, but we've got hard-won experience too. There are other reasons to be cheerful, too:
In your twenties and thirties you were quite likely hoping to find and identify 'The One'. Even if you weren't itching to get engaged, you probably spent far too much time weighing up dates as potential life-mates. By middle age, most people have settled down into the calm and stability of a long-term relationship. And while you may think midlife is a time for adultery and divorce, the risk of divorce is actually highest in the first 10 years of marriage.
So if you married in your early thirties, by the time you hit your tin anniversary in your early forties, chances are, you're heading for calmer waters.
Reggie Perrin faked his death to escape his tedious executive existence, but, if you are lucky, by 40-odd, the years of slog are starting to pay off and you are better paid and have more control over your life than when you were a drone. Or you may have jettisoned a job that made you miserable and - with the experience accrued over two decades - started your own business, embarked on a PhD or retrained.
OK, we may not have achieved all our youthful ambitions - but the ups and downs of life have sanded off our sharper edges, we're less prickly, happier to celebrate others' success, rather than looking over our shoulders.
Friends and relationships
The best things about middle age, is that we stop worrying so much about what other people think of us. We become less needy, we prune our social network, prioritising our closest friends, rather than those we feel we ought to see. We also learn how to stop accepting every invitation, like a D-list celebrity. When someone asks us to join a book club or belly-dancing class we can 'Just Say No' if we don't want to.
Health and fitness
The kind of hedonistic lifestyle that seemed cool in your twenties - serial hangovers, CSS (Cheap Savoury Snacks) and no exercise - no longer cuts it at 40. While we can't all lay claim to derrieres as pert Kylie's or action-man abs, many of us are in better shape than 20 years ago. Men who, mid-thirties, were nursing paunches have suddenly gone from dad-bods to Lycra-clad athletes. Women who once couldn't run for a bus without wheezing are signing up for triathlons and Tough Mudders.
We've worked out what suits us, and have the budget to sort out things that bother us, such as wonky teeth. Now is the time to start trimming your eyebrows (men) and investing in decent make-up (women). You can be more daring about fashion than in your cash-strapped, time-poor twenties and thirties. Short skirts or leather trousers don't have to scream mutton - though there are still some no-go areas, such as playsuits or plaits.
The Telegraph, London