Happiness and age

Happiness in Germany (click to enlarge)- Hamburg and Niedersachsen on top, driven by “healthy attitude towards life”, according to German happiness atlas (including other graphics).

An interesting finding of happiness research is the correlation between average levels of happiness and age.

Spontaneously, when you would have asked me 20 years ago how this correlation would look like, I’d have said that happiness is high when you are young, and decreases drastically when you are getting older.
Because, hey, everybody wants to be young, you are so free and glorious when you are young (shine on you crayz diamond, Pink Floyd; Forever Young, Alphaville; and so on), but when you are getting older you constantly loose your freedom and open minded spirit.

And then, at some point of time, OMG: You are getting old (A fearful thougth when you are 18. But happily sooo far away…):

What a mess, your health degrades, you get boring and conservative (like all this old guys are, aren’t they?), you lose your temper and energy. And obviously – especially in modern society – nobody wants to be old! So this must be a quite unhappy age, I would have argued.

Today I know better:

The below findings mainly relate to men. For women the correlations are slightly different (bit higher satisfaction between 20 and 30, but lower later)

The first part of the story is still true. At a age of about 16-22 years, you are at a high peak of happiness. Live is great, the future is open, the world lies at your feet!

But then comes the age of 22-27.
Uff. Suddenly you recognize that not everybody was waiting for you so desperately than you expected. The gravity of live hits you every now and then. And you are not yet prepared for these attacks. Happiness/Life satisfaction drops considerably.

Then comes your “best age”: 27-35 years.
Well, bullshit. According to statistics, this is the time where your life satisfaction / happiness will reach its bottom!
Sounds surprising, but if you think about it, it’s obvious:
In this age you will have made major decisions. While they might have been good in the end, you start to see that some of them are quite final. Room for dreaming is significantly reduced. You might proceed at a career and have more money, but this comes with beasty bosses, working over-time, ideals and glorious plans of your youth collapsing one by one.
Your partner might be a great choice, still she/he is still not yet perfect, and you might start to fear that the perfect partner from the dreams of your youth does not exist.
You might have children, and while they provide great fun and you are very proud, especially in the first years they can be a great burden to your partnership, your sleep and your patience as well. Even family live is not always like in the Kellogg’s or Pampers advertisement, isn’t it?! 😉
And: OMG, you start to understand that some of the hated ways your parents behaved are quite understandable now that you look back.

OK, tough shit – not best age at all. You did not expect that (At least Woodpecker didn’t, and was quite surprised having a quite hard time at around the age of 28 – a premature midlife-crisis?!).

But here is the good news:

For a long time to come, this was the bottom!
From about 30-45 years (depending on study, gender and individual) onward, happiness / life satisfaction increases constantly for 3 decades!
At an age of 55 you are likely to be as happy as when you were 20, and even more so 5 years later.
Reason is, that you start to accept your faith, you start to accept the choices you made, you stop blaming others for everything that went wrong, you take responsibility for your life and the life of your family. (Well, that is ideally. However there are quite a few people who are not able to take responsibility for their lives, but they continue blaming their youth, the state, politicians, the monetary system or whatever for their misery. Unfortunately their chances on a happy life will stay limited.)
You learn to take life more relaxed, you are less afraid of the future because you know that you can handle it and that you have your strategies. And this self-confidence actually is justified. Because the lessons of life will indeed have made you more resistant against shocks to come.
In fact I tend to say that some hardship in earlier times might even help, because they force you to step back a bit and think about what went wrong.

OK guys, only about 5 years to go for Woodpecker until the statistical low is reached. And I am determined to cushion this with an extra dose of non-age related happiness boosters! 😉
Join me!

However, your life satisfaction will continue to rise until your health starts to degrade. Bad health is by far the toughest happiness killer, so right to the end there is another dip. Hopefully quite far away for the most of you and a strong motivation to keep your health in order.

Well, there is one little caveat:

To benefit from the increasing happiness of age, you have to look back on your life in peace and you have to take a relaxed and mentally flexible attitude towards your surroundings. So in that point my younger self was correct: Preserving your openness is important! It also seems to help to be generous and kind to others.

The ancestors would have called it “becoming wise with age” – what a lovely saying: so antiquarian but still so true. 😉



Link to Study on Happiness and age (English)

Link to maps on happiness in Germany: Deutscher Glücksatlas (German)


3 comments on “Happiness and age

  1. Workin' Man says:

    This is an excellent post. I am nearing the end of the 27-35 category and think your observations are spot on. Definitely been a “premature midlife crisis” but also observing the tide starting to turn in the last year. I think too the improved hapiness of the following years comes from learning to live your life intentionally, but I’m not sure about that because I haven’t lived those years yet 🙂

    • mrwoodpecker says:

      Thanks and hope the tide will continue to turn to the better!
      Could well be that what you mentioned plays a role now I think about it.
      Probably takes time to find out what one realy wants, and distinguish this from the things that one is told he should want…
      Before that one is more prone to be driven than steering actively.

  2. […] there are many U.S. readers around, in addition to German happiness distribution, here the picture for the U.S. (click to […]

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