On “Life Begins At Forty”

You must have heard the phrase “Life begins at forty“. I often wondered where did that phrase come from. But I did not bother to find an answer until recently – when I started approaching 40 ☺️

So here is what I read about the origins of the phrase.


Life Begins at Forty was a 1932 American self-help book by Walter B. Pitkin. Written during a time of rapid increase in life expectancy (at the time of its publication American life expectancy at birth was around 60 and climbing fast, from being only at age 40 fifty years before), it was very popular and influential.

It was the #1 bestselling non-fiction book in the United States in 1933, and #2 in 1934, according to Publishers Weekly.

Although Pitkin did not necessarily coin the phrase “life begins at forty”, the success of his book entered it into general circulation, such that after 1932 it became an American catchphrase for the remainder of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first century.


So the phrase belongs to an era when life expectancy was below 40 and when it started increasing to 60 (thanks to industrial revolution leading to less wear and tear and more comfort, and vast improvements in medical and healthcare sector).

So people who started living beyond 40 felt as if they had a new lease of life. And hence the feeling that their life (second/extended phase) began at 40.

Of course that was more in literal sense in thode days.

But why did the phrase continue even today when life expectancy of many nations is far beyond 70 yrs – in many cases it is as high as 85!

Well, I think the phrase is still valid but has changed from literal to metaphorical meaning.

Most people start their career in their early twenties. So by 40, they have spent 15-18 years in their career; settled or stabilized on personal and professional fronts. They are in better control of their own life. And hence probably they can devote more time and resources to their interests, hobbies and passions. In that sense, the “life”, in true sense, begins at forty!

Of course 40 is not an exact number. It could be 35 for some people, or 45-50 for others. The idea is about having a milestone in life when you feel that you are in better control of life, find your peace and get positively motivated about the second phase of your life.

There are several quotes and funny thoughts on “begins forty” . Here are few:

  • The first 40 years of childhood are always the hardest!
  • Life begins at 40 – but so do fallen arches, rheumatism, faulty eyesight, and the tendency to tell a story to the same person, three or four times
  • At 40 years old, your broad mind and narrow waist have traded places
  • Looks =18. Feels = 14. Acts = 8. That makes me 40!
  • Forty is the old age of youth; fifty the youth of old age – Victor Hugo
  • The best years of a woman’s life — the ten years between 39 and 40
  • Life doesn’t just begin at forty, it begins to show
  • If you haven’t grown up by age 40, you don’t have to…
  • The “I just woke up” face of your 30’s is the “all day long” face of your 40’s

But hey, who cares…remember? 40 is the new 20!

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Actually it is about aging gracefully. I had posted a picture few years ago which got deleted while migrating to new blog. But that picture beautifully depicted the idea of aging gracefully! So I found it again…here it is:

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As I approach 40, I am reminded of below quote:

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So, I too hope that my life begins at 40! I am eagerly looking forward to joining the cat who quietly turned 40 today 🙂

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