Who are the happiest people?

August 24, 2011 by
Filed under: Research, Spinewave Bulletin 

Worried about getting older? Here’s something to look forward to: new research from Stanford University in California has found that emotional well being peaks at around age 70.

While youth may give you more hair and perkier boobs, this study suggests that the upside of ageing is inner peace. Researchers followed participants aged 18 to 94 over 10 years and found that the toils and troubles of youth make people unhappier. The older set did experience negative feelings but these were balanced by positive ones as well, which gave them more stable and balanced emotions overall.

Similar research on ageing and happiness by US researchers, David G. Blanchflower and Andrew J. Oswald, suggests a chart of happiness throughout a lifetime would look like Figure 1 below, an upside-down U: born happy little babies, dipping into depressed mid-life crisis adults, and curving back to our happy place after we’ve had our pensioner’s card for a while. The tentative reasons for the rough regularity of this mathematical curve are posed as follows:

  1. Individuals learn to adapt to their strengths and weaknesses and in mid-life quell their infeasible aspirations.
  2. Cheerful people live systematically longer than the miserable, for reasons not currently understood, and that the well being U-shape in age thus traces out in part a selection effect.
  3. A kind of comparison process is at work, e.g. “I have seen school friends die and come eventually to value my blessings during my remaining years”.

Read the August Case of the Month on Happiness and listen to Habits of Happiness.

Reference: Blanchflower, David. G. & Oswald, Andrew. J. Is Well-being U-Shaped over the Life Cycle? Social Science & Medicine. 2008.

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