Among the academic community, it is generally believed that people become happier as they age. The strength of this consensus varies slightly among populations–with each typically marking middle-age as the brief deviance from the trend.
In it, Dr. Blanchflower posits that unhappiness peaks around the age of 49 according to a massive study pool derived from Europe and the US,
“I examine the relationship between unhappiness and age using data from eight well-being data files on nearly 14 million respondents across forty European countries and the United States and 168 countries from the Gallup World Poll,” Dr. Blanchflower wrote in the report’s abstract. “I use twenty different individual characterizations of unhappiness including many not good mental health days; anxiety; worry; loneliness; sadness; stress; pain; 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; being unhappy; feeling a failure; feeling left out; feeling tense; and thinking of yourself as a worthless person.”
The study offers three compelling reasons for this outcome. The first two are actually advantages disguised as liabilities.
Younger people tend to have lofty aspirations. Of course, these aspirations are only realized for a lucky few. Thus living in a constant state of unfulfilled dreams likely wears on disposition.
Similarly, unhappy people don’t live as long as satisfied people generally speaking.
These two factors ensure those who live past middle age adjust their expectations considerably in service of a happier existence while those who do not succumb to correlative disorders.
Lastly, Dr. Blanchflower proposes a contrast effect that attends old age. The longer people live the more strategies they witness that makes them more grateful for the things they have.
“Individuals learn to adapt to their strengths and weaknesses, and in mid-life quell their infeasible aspirations. Second, it could be that cheerful people live systematically longer than the miserable and that the nadir in happiness in mid-life thus traces out in part a selection effect. A third is that a kind of comparison process is at work: I have seen school-friends die and come eventually to value my blessings during my remaining years,” the paper adds.
The pillars of happiness and age
Less broadly the questionnaires featured in the new paper subsumed four main areas of satisfaction, namely mental health, frequency of social interactions, and ideations with respect to these interactions, physical wellness, and national well-being.
1) Many ‘not good’ mental health days.
6) Being under strain.
7) Bad nerves.
8) Phobias and panics.
9) Being anxious.
10) Being downhearted.
11) Being unhappy
12) Left out of society
13) Not being able to overcome difficulties.
14) Losing confidence in yourself.
15) Thinking of yourself as a worthless person.
16) Feeling a failure.
18) Feeling tense.
20) Poor/short sleep.
21) The situation in the respondent’s country is getting worse
These metrics showcased an increasing uptick in unhappiness, which begins quite low in young children that eventually begins to decline after middle-age.
“Responses to all these unhappiness questions show a, ceteris paribus, hill shape in age, with controls and many also do so with limited controls for time and country. Unhappiness is hill-shaped in age and the average age where the maximum occurs is 49 with or without controls, Dr. Blanchflower concluded.