I always find it interesting that we tend to look at behaviors from others or ourselves and although we see the uncommon characteristics of that person, life goes on, although we may find humor or sometimes fear in what we just witnessed. In my 27 years in being a therapist I heard many stories that sometimes held for me almost disbelief anyone would think like that, but the human potential is anything but predicable. One thing we know in studying psychology is what we attempt to call “normal” is usually an illusion of our own need to feel normal ourselves. Many times sitting in my office meeting a new client for the first time, thinking there is nothing anyone can say that will shock me, and then hearing another story that defies belief. We are amazing creatures full of mystery and individuality and yet there is so much to learn about how we think reason and act. Yes there are those stories that most of would ask, how could someone do that to another person, harm them, bring so much misery to others? We may never fully understand those “horror” stories that we read about in the newspapers or watch on the news, but we continue to look at the causes and reasons why some people act the way they do. So how do we define “normal”? Is it what we in our society deem acceptable or does a behavior need to conform to our own personality and psyche?
The stereotype that many middle-aged people get depressed and must perk up their lives with sports cars and affairs may be an outdated myth, scientists say. In fact, these days many people often feel more fulfilled in their middle and later years, data shows.
The term "mid-life crisis" was coined 40 years ago by psychologist Elliot Jacques, who reasoned that people's quality of life generally declines after age 35 (at the time, the average lifespan was about 70 years). Jacques suggested that some extreme reactions to looming mortality were to be expected at around this time of life.
But psychologist Carlo Strenger of Israel's Tel Aviv University says that's no longer true, and that studies show mid-life can be one of the happiest periods of people's lives.
"At this point we have surveys of around 1,500 [middle-aged] people," Strenger told LiveScience. "Most of them actually say that they are better off and happier and more balanced than they were when they were 20 years younger. It's quite surprising."
Though the research has so far been confined to Western cultures, Strenger thinks the same trends, as well as similar stereotypes, may apply to other cultures.Strenger says that common notions of what mid-life is supposed to be like are stuck in the past, when life-expectancy was lower, people's health, especially in later years, was much worse, and there was less emphasis on education and self-awareness. "People are so used to thinking of mid-life as basically a period of loss that it often does become a self-fulfilling prophecy," he said. 'But some people, you really see that they begin to blossom, they begin to be more fruitful. They do things on a larger scale." Nowadays, when people are in their 40s and 50s, they have matured, learned to take some of life's hiccups in stride, learned more about themselves and the world around them, and so are uniquely poised to take advantage of the next phase of their lives.
"When you are 50, statistically you have as many adult years ahead of you as you have behind you," Strenger said. "It really takes time to internalize what that really means. It would mean that this whole lifetime that you have behind you, you have ahead of you, and the question is what you want to do with it."
In fact, this may be the time for many people to finally tackle projects or dreams that they've been putting off. They might have a better chance of succeeding because their choices will be based on knowledge and experience, rather than youthful blind ambition.
"Give yourself the chance to truly reassess your choices and to see how you can now use your self-knowledge and live a much more meaningful life than you've lived before. Mid-life can be the moment where you can truly realize your dreams because you know yourself much better."
Research in recent years has suggested that young Americans might be less creative now than in decades past, even while their intelligence -- as measured by IQ tests -- continues to rise.
But new research from the University of Washington Information School and Harvard University, closely studying 20 years of student creative writing and visual artworks, hints that the dynamics of creativity may not break down as simply as that.
Instead, it may be that some aspects of creativity -- such as those employed in visual arts -- are gently rising over the years, while other aspects, such as the nuances of creative writing, could be declining.
The paper will be published in Creativity Research Journal in January 2014. The lead author is Emily Weinstein, a doctoral student in the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
Katie Davis, UW assistant professor, and fellow researchers studied 354 examples of visual art and 50 examples of creative writing by teenagers published between 1990 and 2011. The question they pursued, Davis said, was "How have the style, content and form of adolescents' art-making and creative writing changed over the last 20 years?"
The artwork came from a monthly magazine for teens, the writing from a similar annual publication featuring student fiction. The researchers analyzed and coded the works, blind as to year, looking for trends over that time.
The review of student visual art showed an increase in the sophistication and complexity both in the designs and the subject matter over the years. The pieces, Davis said, seemed "more finished, and fuller, with backgrounds more fully rendered, suggesting greater complexity." Standard pen-and-ink illustrations grew less common over the period studied, while a broader range of mixed media work was represented.
Conversely, the review of student writing showed the young authors adhering more to "conventional writing practices" and a trend toward less play with genre, more mundane narratives and simpler language over the two decades studied.
Still, Davis said, it's too simple to just say creativity increased in one area and decreased in another over the years.
"There really isn't a standard set of agreed-upon criteria to measure something as complex and subjective as creativity," she said. "But there are markers of creativity -- like complexity and risk-taking and breaking away from the standard mold -- that appear to have changed."
The researchers also note that the period of study was a time of great innovation in digital art, with new tools for creative production and boundless examples of fine art a mere click or two away, serving to inform and inspire the students in their own work.
Davis said that while previous research has typically studied creativity in a lab setting, this work examined student creative work in a more "naturalistic" setting, where it is found in everyday life.
She added that with data from such a naturalistic setting, researchers cede a degree of control over the characteristics of the sample being studied, and the findings cannot safely be generalized to all American youth.
"It remains an open question as to whether the entire U.S. has seen a decline in literary creativity and a parallel increase in visual creativity among its youth over the last 20 years," Davis said. "Because society -- indeed any society -- depends on the creativity of its citizens to flourish, this is a question that warrants serious attention in future creativity research."