Dartmouth professor says this is the age when you will be unhappiest

It’s true: living your best life won’t last forever.

As people get older, there tends to be a downward trend in personal outlook and behavior, and according to a new study, peak grumpiness happens when you reach 47 years old.

Dartmouth College professor David Blanchflower penned his findings in a report for the National Bureau of Economic Research earlier this week, where he examined the relationship between unhappiness and age by comparing data of nearly 10 million respondents across forty European countries and the US.

For his research, Blanchflower determined unhappiness as feelings of “despair; anxiety; loneliness; sadness; strain, depression and bad nerves; phobias and panic; being downhearted; having restless sleep; losing confidence in oneself; not being able to overcome difficulties; being under strain; feeling a failure; feeling left out; feeling tense, and thinking of yourself as a worthless person.”

The experiment also had respondents answer two statements by agreeing or disagreeing to the following choices:

  • It is hard to be hopeful about the future of the world?
  • Life in the country, is getting worse?

Blanchflower found a trend across all countries: when people approach 50, they are at their lowest.

“Many people are hurting,” he wrote.

For people in advanced countries, the lowest point of their lives comes at 47.2 years old, while people living in developing nations is 48.2 years old. However, every country has a “happiness curve” over lifetimes, which is described as U-shaped in the study. That means while life might be your lowest at one point, it tends to go back up with time.

“Unhappiness is hill-shaped in age,” Blanchflower wrote. “The curve’s trajectory holds true in countries where the median wage is high and where it is not and where people tend to live longer and where they don’t.”

One of the reasons for this up-and-down-and-up cycle relies heavily on societal structures like education, marital status and unemployed, which are “considered major influences in a well-being equation,” according to Blanchflower.

“Unemployment enters negatively in happiness equations and is a major source of hurt,” he wrote. “Low education groups have been impacted especially hard by the Great Recession. Being married conveys markedly more happiness than being single, and especially more than, say being separated. These are all standard controls in happiness equations.”

Blanchflower, a former Bank of England policymaker, also said economic turmoil and globalization is to blame for a “midlife crisis.”

“The resiliency of communities left behind by globalization was diminished by the Great Recession which made it especially hard for the vulnerable undergoing a midlife crisis with few resources, to withstand the shock,” he said.

In the US, the majority of the workforce considers themselves unhappy. A survey conducted by the Gallup Poll in 2018 found that Americans were more unhappy than they have been in a decade.

A contributing reason could be ageism in the workplace. About half (51%) of all adults said older workers often dealt with age discrimination at work, according to a recent survey conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Nearly 60% of Americans age 50 and older say that older workers face discrimination in the workplace, and 75% think their own age is a disadvantage when looking for work.