Happier Aging. That’s what my column is about each and every month. Typically I write about things that contribute to happiness. This time it is directly on happiness. And isn’t it interesting that science has studied and confirmed the pattern that human happiness follows as we age? It’s called the Happiness U-Curve based on what it looks like on a graph.
What years of surveys and research on happiness levels as we age has shown is that happiness levels are higher when we’re younger (teens and early 20s), dips significantly during middle age (30s and 40s), and increases again after the age of 50 or so. This pattern holds true around the globe. Although life satisfaction drops during midlife, it begins to recover around age 50, and reaches its peak after ages 65-70. Which may make sense with retirement age.
Although this is the Happiness U-curve that represents all of us as a society, it doesn’t mean that this pattern must correlate with your happiness. Happiness is based approximately 50 per cent on genetic factors, and 50 per cent on your own decisions and mindset — which are controllable. So even if it’s natural to see a downward trend, and it’s likely to affect pretty much everyone, it isn’t mandatory or necessary.
With age and maturity, the focus turns away from social competition and toward social connection. And it makes great sense that happiness/life satisfaction scores would increase with more social connection, as the single most important factor in happiness levels is surrounding ourselves with people we love and who love us. The 80-year, ongoing longitudinal study, the Harvard Adult Development Study, has proven that. And it has also proven that human connection/quality relationships has great impact on our health too. The study’s previous director, Robert Waldinger, has repeatedly stated that the people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were also the healthiest at age 80. This study has revealed that close relationships, more than money or fame, are what keep people happy throughout their lives.
Outside of healthy relationships with those around us, the other most important practice to ensure happiness and contentment through life is to practice daily gratitude. Express (even to yourself in your mind) what you are thankful for, every day. A gratitude journal can be a great way to cultivate this habit.
That’s your roadmap for increased happiness over a lifetime. Happier Aging, as it turns out. And isn’t it funny that the Happiness U-Curve is in the shape of a smile.