Category Archives: Happiness

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

What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness

P1100879My travel friend recently sent me a link on a TED talk that was very interesting.  It is on “What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness” by Robert Waldinger.  Robert is the director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development where they had just completed the longest study of adult life that’s ever been done. For 75 years, they tracked the lives of 724 men, year after year, asking about their work, their home lives, their health, and asking them all along the way without knowing how their life stories were going to turn out.

So, what have they learned from the tens of thousands of pages of information that they have collected since 1938?  Well, the lessons aren’t about the wealth or the fame or the their success from working harder and harder. The conclusion from this 75-year study is: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. 

The study learned that there are three big lessons about relationships. The first is that social connections are really good for us, and that loneliness kills.  It turns out that people who are more socially connected to family, friends, and community, are happier, they are physically healthier, and they live longer than people who are less well connected.  And the experience of loneliness turns out to be toxic.  People who are more isolated than they want to be from others find that they are less happy, their health declines earlier in midlife, their brain functioning declines sooner and they live shorter lives than people who are not lonely.

The second big lesson that they learned is that it is not just the number of friends you have, and it is not whether or not you are in a committed relationship, but it is the quality of your close relationships that matters.  It turns out that living in the midst of conflict is really bad for our health.  For example, high-conflict marriages, without much affection, turn out to be very bad for our health, perhaps worse than getting divorced.

The third big lesson that they learned about relationships is that good relationships do not just protect our bodies, but they protect our brains as well.  Being in a securely attached relationship to another person in our old age is protective.  When people feel they can really count on the other person in times of need, those people’s memories stay sharper longer.  And those good relationships do not have to be smooth all the time.  Older couples can bicker with each other day in and day out, but as long as they felt that they could really count on the other when the going got tough, those arguments did not take a toll on their memories.

So the message is that good, close relationships are good for our health and well-being.  The people  who are the happiest in retirement are the people who had actively worked to replace workmates with new playmates.

The TED talk closed with a quote from Mark Twain.  More than a century ago when he was looking back on his life, and Mark Twain wrote: “There isn’t time, so brief is life, for bickerings, apologies, heartburnings, callings to account. There is only time for loving, and but an instant, so to speak, for that.”

As we move to our next chapter of our lives, we have to remember that the good life is built with good relationships.