The Happiness U-Curve

There was an analysis done by the Brookings scholars Carol Graham and Milena Nikolova, drawing on Gallup polls done in 2013, that shows a clear relationship between age and well-being in the United States. Respondents to the polls rated their life satisfaction relative to the “best possible life” for them, with 0 being worst and 10 being best.

The happiness u-curve


The result was a U-shaped curve, with the low point in happiness being between 43 to 47 around.  We start out as being very happy and carefree in our teens, but with the increasing responsibilities of the 20’s & 30’s, our degree of happiness decreases.  And when the “midlife crisis” hits us sometime in our 40’s, we look at our life and wonder, Is this all there is to it?  This feeling ends about 10 years later, when we look at our life again and say, Hey, actually, this is pretty good.”

And surprising, it’s quite true.  I have begun to feel again the sense of adventure that I recall from my 20’s and early 30’s. I wake up excited about the plans ahead rather than the decades past.   I am picking up the sports and hobbies that I never had the time before, and planning my travel, outdoor adventure, and fitness bucket lists.

In another study conducted by a Stanford University psychologist team in 2011, they found that “the peak of emotional life may not occur until well into the seventh decade”. They discovered that most people during their 40’s felt that they never lived up to their expectations; never good enough in terms of social competition.  But when they turn 60, they start to ” feel so privileged”, and “to feel it now.”  As people age and time horizons grow shorter,” they write, “people invest in what is most important, typically meaningful relationships, and derive increasingly greater satisfaction from these investments.”  Also,  “when the future becomes less distant, more constrained, people focus on the present, and we think that’s better for emotional experience. The goals that are chronically activated in old age are ones about meaning and savoring and living for the moment.”

So, I am looking forward to our “golden years” when our degree of happiness will be going up!

Source: The Real Roots of Midlife Crisis in The Atlantic

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