Successful adjustment to adult life can be measured in terms of three criteria: achievements, satisfaction, and personal adjustments as reflected in the individual’s personality. All three are so closely interrelated that one alone is inadequate to assess the individual’s adjustment.
Normally, adulthood is a time of achievement. Adults usually reach the peak of their achievements between the ages of thirty and thirty-nine years. Thirty-five is often regarded as the “crisis year” – meaning that if individuals have not shown significant achievements by then, it is unlikely that they ever will.
However, it is important to realize that the age at which adults reach their peaks depends on the area in which they attain distinction. The peak in athletic abilities, for example, has been found to come in the mid-twenties, though it varies somewhat with the different types of athletic activities. Those who are involved in science, mathematics, music, writing, philosophy, and inventing usually reach their peak during their thirties or early forties.
The degree to which adults are successful in adjusting to the important problems they face in adult life will determine the degree of their satisfaction. This, in turn, will affect their happiness.
During their twenties, young adults are apt to be somewhat pessimistic about the future and, as a result, many are dissatisfied and unhappy. However, as they approach the thirties, they usually become more optimistic and more realistic. As a result, they are better satisfied with their lives and, hence, happier. In fact, this decade in the life span is often regarded as one of the happiest periods in life.
The success with which adults adjust to the problems of adult life has an effect on their self-concepts and, through them, on their personalities. The more successfully they adjust, the more favourable their self-concepts will be and the more self-confidence, assurance, and poise they will have. One of the major problems many adults face is personal attractiveness and the role it plays in vocational, social, and marital life. By the age of thirty, most adults are better satisfied with their looks because they have learned to use beauty aids successfully. Consequently, they are better satisfied with themselves and, hence, happier.
Feelings of inadequacy, on the other hand, are the usual accompaniments of failures in adjustment. This is true also when there is a large discrepancy between the perceived and ideal self. Under such conditions, adults tend to be anxious, dissatisfied, and unhappy. This is often expressed in suicidal tendencies.
By the time men and women reach adulthood, their personality patterns are fairly well established. As Thorndike pointed out, many years ago: “A person’s nature at 12 is prophetic of his nature in adult years . . . The child to whom approval is more cherished than mastery is likely to become a man who seeks applause rather than power, and similarly throughout”.
Thus, it should be apparent that the personality pattern influences the kind of adjustments men and women make to adult life, rather than the reverse.
While there is unquestionably a cause-and-effect relationship working both ways, it is stronger in the direction of the personality’s influence on adjustments. Adults who make good adjustments have integrated personality patterns in which the core is a stable, realistic self-concept, whereas those who make poor adjustments have poorly integrated personality patterns with unstable, unrealistic self-concepts.