This Is the One Thing Everyone Should Know Before Turning 40
For every silver hair, there's a silver lining.
To many people, turning 40 feels significantly different than the birthdays that preceded it. And while many may dread hitting the big 4-0, there's actually a lot to look forward to after turning 40. In fact, according to data extrapolated from the 2019 World Happiness Report by The Economist, Americans tend to see their happiness increase after hitting 40.
However, if you want to ensure that life over 40 is just as blissful as you hoped it would be, there's an easy way to do so, according to experts.
"Many people become uncomfortable around these milestone birthdays and when they do, I tell them that it's because they aren't living their life fully," explains psychologist and success coach Sharon Grossman, PhD, calling the milestone birthday "a wakeup call to review your life, find what's missing, and fill in the gaps."
This can be as simple as trying a new passion, testing a style you were afraid to try before, or even vacationing somewhere new.
"If you don't like the idea of turning 40, use it as an opportunity to start living the life you want to live," says Grossman.
However, that's far from the only way turning 40 can act as a much-needed reset button. Read on to discover the surprising changes you can expect from life after 40. And if you want to make the most of the next phase in your life, check out The 40 Best Ways to Conquer Your 40s.
You let go of some of your control.
You couldn't put off those gray hairs forever, and those wrinkles on your forehead aren't the death sentence you thought they'd be. Once you hit 40, the perspective you have on life allows you to cede some control—and you may find you're happier for it.
"Stop investing energy into things you cannot control," recommends psychologist Brad Rappaport, Psy.D, of Inner Path Psychotherapy. "Focus your attention and energy on your values, the things that give meaning and purpose in your life."
You care less about how others perceive you.
Those worries about what others think about you that kept you up at night in your 20s are long gone by the time you hit the big 4-0.
"Following these arbitrary expectations can lead to a lack of fulfillment," says psychologist Heather Z. Lyons, PhD, founder of Baltimore Therapy Group. "Make 40 about looking inward and figuring out what you want for yourself apart from others' expectations." And for more great stories delivered to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
Your fear of being alone subsides.
If you've made it into your fifth decade unscathed by flying solo, why should you start to fear being single now? In your 40s, you've not only learned that being single isn't the end of the world, you've grown to downright enjoy your own company.
And you'll be amazed how easily you can walk away from toxic relationships.
While you may have previously been willing to suffer through dinners with friends who talked about themselves ad nauseam or you've shrugged off family members who continuously commented on your weight, your patience for these relationships will have waned significantly by the time you turn 40.
"Turning 40 is a time of reflection to take stock of who you are at this time in your life, which include the values, friendships, jobs, relationships, and thoughts you hold dear," says clinical psychologist Tricia Wolanin Psy.D. "If they no longer serve us, it's the time to begin subtracting the excess." And if you want to improve your life, make sure to avoid the 40 Most Common Regrets People Have in Their 40s.
Your priorities change.
In your 40s, keeping up with the Joneses stops being the driving force in your life. Whether it's your career, family, or personal happiness, it's the perfect time to figure out your priorities. "Forty is a peak time to re-assess our values," says Los Angeles-based clinical psychologist and author Tricia Wolanin, Psy.D. "We may spend it re-aligning and re-adjusting how we opt to live our lives. If you want to make a shift, it is prime time to do that." And if you want to lead a healthier life, prioritize these 40 Habits Doctors Wish You'd Adopt After 40.
And getting adequate sleep becomes one of them.
If you're a typical American, you're likely getting too little sleep. In fact, a 2013 Gallup poll found that the average American only clocks 6.8 hours of shut eye per night. And while you may have woken up feeling just fine after only a few winks a decade or two earlier, not getting an adequate amount of sleep in your 40s can ruin your entire day.
Your social circle gets smaller.
Blame it on spouses, kids, or the increasing pressure from work, but your social circle is bound to dwindle when you're in your 40s. While your close friends won't disappear, those friendly acquaintances you used to call up to get a drink with on occasion are likely to fall by the wayside.
Everyone gets very concerned about your plans for a family.
If you don't have children by the time you're turning 40, get ready for a barrage of information from well-intentioned, though ultimately nosy friends and family members. Even if you've never mentioned any interest in starting a family of your own, you'll hear time and time again how Janet Jackson had a baby over 50 and how IVF is making it possible.
And if you're single, you'll get a ton of relationship advice.
For many people, hearing that somebody is over 40 and single sounds a lot like a request for advice. If you aren't married or living with a significant other by the time you reach your 40th birthday, prepare for a whole lot of unsolicited offers to set you up.
Your inhibitions fade.
You have decades of practice trying new things under your belt by the time you hit 40, meaning that you're likely to experience a newly inhibition-free existence. So long, indecisiveness and sex with the lights off! And if you're ready to switch things up, start with these 13 Fashion Rules You Should Forget as Soon as You Turn 40.
And your embarrassment reflex turns off, too.
With your inhibitions in the rearview, those things that used to embarrass you—bad dates, faux pas at work, ruminations about how weirdly you danced at that party—seem pretty inconsequential by the time you're in your 40s.
Your preference for experiences outweighs your desire for fancy things.
Is it nice to have a luxury car in your driveway or an expensive purse on your arm? Maybe, but as you enter your 40s, you've realized that the joy these possessions bring is short-lived. Instead, you know that experiences always make you happier than things in the long run.
People start coming to you for advice.
Forty doesn't feel old to the people who've hit it. That said, to younger people, you seem not only older, but wiser, making you the perfect person to go to for advice.
We won't tell these younger folks that you're still figuring out how to make an omelet and do your taxes. Just enjoy your Yoda moment.
But some may assume you're less competent.
Unfortunately, even though 40 might feel young to you, there are some people who will consider you over-the-hill by the time you hit this milestone. Just brace yourself for the first time a recent college graduate asks you if you know how to check your email.
Forgetfulness becomes a frequent issue.
As you hit your 40s, you're more likely to misplace that cup of coffee you just made, struggle to recall names of people you've met recently, or forget where you parked your car at the mall. The good news? According to research published in the journal Neuron in 2015, forgetfulness can actually be a useful memory consolidation tool, helping you maintain necessary information and ditch the extraneous stuff.
You stop sourcing your style from celebrities.
The thought of buying an outfit because you saw it in a magazine may have once appealed to you, but your taste has evolved pretty significantly over the years. Now you listen to your own intuition when it comes to determining your sense of style, not the dubious advice of someone in a glossy who you'll never meet.
You no longer care that you're out of touch with pop culture.
In your 30s, you likely realized that there were dozens of popular celebrities out there who were not only younger than you, but who you couldn't pick out in a lineup. And that might have triggered a mini meltdown. In your 40s, you don't care if your friends' kids look at you like you have three heads because you don't know who Billie Eilish is.
You've officially been upgraded to "ma'am" or "sir."
When someone in a store is calling out, "Ma'am! Ma'am!" you may not turn your head immediately, but make no mistake: Now that you're in your 40s, they're likely talking to you.
You start thinking about retirement.
It may feel as though you've just hit your stride in your career, but as your 40s progress, your friends are likely to start talking seriously about planning for their retirement. So, if you haven't already, it might be a good idea to start thinking about upping those 401(k) contributions.
Your midlife crisis won't necessarily involve a tattoo or sports car.
Though it's up to you if you buy a Corvette, get a nose ring, or quit your job following your 40th birthday, research suggests that many forty-somethings will find themselves experiencing a crisis of sorts. According to a 2013 study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Development, 46 percent of men and 59 percent of women have some sort of crisis between 40 and 49.
However, the signs of a midlife crisis aren't always as obvious as a convertible in the driveway. "Symptoms include depression, questioning long-standing beliefs, indecision, scrutinizing your sense of purpose, and having increased thoughts about your own mortality," says Chicago-based therapist Carolyn Ball, MA, LPC, founder of Elevate Counseling + Wellness.
People you know start dealing with serious health issues.
One thing few forty-somethings find themselves prepared for are the serious health issues that tend to crop up among their inner circle. Whether it's parents getting older or friends dealing with cancer, the first major health problem to affect your loved ones will likely hit you like a freight train.
Getting a physical starts to be a nerve-racking experience.
While few people relish the opportunity to get poked and prodded by their doctor, it's not generally a frightening experience—until you hit your 40s, that is. Every time you go for a check-up, you start worrying about a strange new freckle, what that glass of wine last night did to your liver, or whether your routine appointment will find something terrible you never anticipated.
And every doctor's appointment is loaded with new tests.
Even if you just went in to get some medication for a sinus infection, don't be surprised if you leave the doctor's office hours later, thanks to an unexpected series of tests. After turning 40, every visit to your MD involves some new medical test—and tons of reminders to start scheduling those mammograms and colonoscopies.
Your sex life slowing down isn't necessarily a bad thing.
If you're in your 40s, don't be surprised if your sex life isn't exactly as hot as it was a decade or two prior. But not all hope is lost: A 2017 review of research published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior found that couples who have sex infrequently are no less happy than those getting it on on a regular basis.
Because the sex itself is better.
There is, however, a silver lining when it comes to your sex life in your 40s. At this age, you not only know what you want, you're also likely less self-conscious than you were just a few years prior, making it easier to enjoy yourself in the bedroom.
Gray hair is practically inevitable.
Even if your hair has managed to maintain its natural color throughout your 30s, don't expect it to last much longer. In fact, research published in the British Journal of Dermatology in 2012 found that 74 percent of people between the ages of 45 and 65 develop gray hair.
And hair starts to show up in unexpected places.
A few grays aren't the only changes in your hair you might notice after 40. "Even if you didn't have any hair growing in unusual places, you'll start seeing it once you turn 40," says Nikola Djordjevic, MD, of MedHelpAlert.org. "In women, when estrogen levels decrease after menopause, testosterone becomes more prominent, causing hair to grow darker and longer."
You suddenly have a dozen creams for different parts of your body.
There's your eye cream, the one you use on your neck, the one you put on before bed, the one that moisturizes your newly dry elbows, and all those prescription ones from the dermatologist that are supposed to take care of the surprising skin ailments you didn't realize were going to afflict you in your 40s.
Wrinkles blindside you.
But no matter how many anti-aging creams you've spent money on or how many times you've tried to avoid crinkling up your face when you laugh, if you're over 40, count on wrinkles appearing as if out of nowhere.
Glasses become a necessity.
Even if your eyesight has always been good, chances are it will start to get a little less sharp in your 40s. But don't worry: According to a 2006 study from the National Institutes of Health, 94.4 percent of Americans between the ages of 40 and 59 with visual impairment can correct the issue with glasses or contacts.
Your bladder weakens.
As you age, your once elastic bladder tissue become less stretchy, meaning it cannot hold as much urine as it once did, according to the National Institute on Aging. "This may result in frequent nightly visits to the restroom, which, consequently, affect the quality of your sleep, resulting in a less deep sleep," says Lina Velikova, MD, co-founder of DisturbMeNot.co.
Your body responds very differently to alcohol.
While you may have been able to have a Big Gulp-size glass of wine and still woken up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in your 20s and 30s, by the time 40 rolls around, things change. "After 40, your liver will behave differently with alcohol," says Velikova. "The decreased ability of the liver to process alcohol may result in you getting tipsy with fewer drinks."
These days, you're sure to need a Big Gulp-size glass of water and some ibuprofen after a big night out.
Junk food hits you like a ton of bricks.
Back in your 20s, eating a bag of tortilla chips or half a pizza for dinner was no big deal. By the time you hit 40, however, you get nearly as bad a hangover from unhealthy food choices as you would from unhealthy booze choices. Those so-called "meals" of junk food not only hit you harder, the effects also stay around for longer—and that's all because of your metabolism.
Your metabolism slows down dramatically.
Turning 40 often means your metabolism slows down significantly, so you're likely to see some extra inches around your waist, which can be concerning for more than superficial reasons.
"This fat storage tends to occur in the midsection, and this is the worst place to accrue fat because it can be linked to cardiac disease and other chronic conditions," says Why Diets Fail author Nicole Avena, Ph.D., assistant professor of neuroscience at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and visiting professor of health psychology at Princeton University.
Your nutrient deficiencies catch up with you.
While you may not have thought much about the exact nutrients in your food prior to your 40th birthday, those deficiencies can catch up with you as you age. "For example, if you have not been great about getting enough calcium and vitamin D, you may suddenly now feel the effects of that by having weaker bones and being more susceptible to having things break, like teeth," cautions Avena.
And you discover there's a supplement for everything.
Back in your younger days, you probably only took multivitamins, antibiotics, and headache medication. However, in your 40s, you've got a supplement for your skin, one for your heart, another for your vision, and a handful more to keep your bones as healthy as possible.
Your temperamental back becomes your daily enemy.
You might be in great shape or stretch every day without fail, but after turning 40, experiencing back pain is virtually inevitable. Worse yet, it's often hard to pinpoint what causes it: You'll go to bed one night and suddenly wake up and feel like you can't stand up straight.
And you're not alone—a 2009 study from the UNC School of Medicine found that up to 84 percent of adult Americans experience back pain, up from 73 percent just over two decades earlier.
Easy workouts start giving you some major day-after pains.
You used to be able to run five miles without a second thought. And while your stamina may not necessarily decrease after reaching your 40th birthday, the number of aches and pains you have after a pretty typical workout does increase exponentially.
And your joints make noise for no discernible reason.
You can't remember exactly when the change started, but you know your knees definitely didn't sound like a creaky barn door in your 20s. In your 40s, your joints ache, creak, and give out altogether on occasion. In fact, research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 30 percent of adults in the United States experience some form of joint pain.
But generally, you don't sweat the small stuff.
The worries and regrets that used to keep you up at night are now like water off a duck's back. You know what your priorities are, you know who you are, and you know what kind of person you want to be. And, now that you're in your 40s, you're not about to let something as silly as self-doubt stand in your way.