Growing Older: Happiness Is a U

You’re probably now wondering why in the world happiness would be a U? It doesn’t even contain the letter U. Look at it from the perspective of growing older, seeing it as a curve, and it begins to make sense.

The relationship between age and happiness has been on top of researchers’ lists. There have been many studies and the findings are mostly Universal: We start happy, drop in the middle, and then get happier again.

The Voice of America Special English Health Report, published in May 2012, was based on a Gallup survey conducted in the US, with a number of over 340,000 participants between the ages of 18 and 85. It showed that happiness was highest amongst the youngest participants and those in their early 70s; however, people aged 70 and above rarely mentioned any negative emotions at all.

But it’s not only the Americans that live their life U-shaped. In a study carried out by the European Centre for Social Welfare Policy and Research, analyst Orsolya Lelkes found similar results. Based on a cross-national dataset, she also found a drop in happiness around the age of 40.

What remains the same throughout all ages, though, is the factor of social stability and a supportive network. People regard family and friends as one of their main factors in the determination of happiness. Other basic needs, such as an income and good health, rank high as well, but nothing proved to be more crucial for the road to happiness than support – whether that’s an encouraging network whilst sitting your A-Levels or a loving family who take care in one’s declining years.

With the results of multiple studies showing a deterioration of happiness around the age of 40, it is also suggested that the concept of a mid-life crisis is an actual thing. Other studies are in unison with the aforementioned findings that there is a significant drop in happiness levels around the age of 40. For some it might be earlier, for some a little later, but it is noticeable nonetheless. Some researchers claim that in those 30 years from our teens to the 40s, happiness gradually drops by about five to ten percent. This is, of course, based on averages.

Even when factors such as income, marital status or education get taken into accounts, results do not vary to a great extent, except for one variable: gender. Men, in all age groups, tend to be happier than women. The possible reasons for this finding are endless. Women generally experience more pressure when it comes to physical appearance, for example; as it subjectively slowly deteriorates with age, women tend to feel even more pressured to live up to a certain standard, therefore they are prone to more psychological stress and, subsequently, unhappiness. Hormones and the phenomenon of menopause could be another possible reason.

An interesting excursion into the world of primates showed that even our closest relatives in the animal kingdom tend to have a midlife crisis. In a study examining 500 chimpanzees and orangutans, it was shown that even our hairy predecessors are unhappier in their 30s.

“Dashed hopes and good intentions. Good, better, best, bested.”

‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ by Edward Albee

 The start of life is simple. As children, we begin our lives with a degree of happiness and contentment that is hard to take away from. Even through puberty, where often teenagers feel unhappy and unaccepted – though often just through hormonal changes –, the dip is not too considerable.

But growing older into our 20s and 30s, we feel the most pressure: To do well in education, to find a good job, to earn a lot of money, find a partner, marry, have children. By the time we achieved all of this, we enter a stage in life where we start to reflect on our life choices, think about the future and, potentially, start worrying. Comparing ourselves to friends and acquaintances and, more often than not, losing this pointless race adds to the pressure and rapid deterioration of happiness. It is not until we enter our 50s that we are happier again, more content with life and what’s to come.

The psychological aspect could be that with age comes composure, acceptance and wisdom. Growing older into our 50s and beyond we no longer feel the need to prove ourselves or compare ourselves to those around us; we come to terms with our life choices or feel strong enough to make changes if we deem them necessary. Growing older, this only increases as there is less time left, which we do not want to spend with worries and regret. Which, really, might be a good approach for life in general.

Make sure you check out the rest of the articles in our series on happiness:


Photo courtesy of pixabay
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