The happiness curve

By Tom Fortner • Published: April 29th, 2008
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

You could call it the ride of your life, but it’s not located at an amusement park.

Instead, it’s the U-shaped happiness curve most of us follow as we make our way through life’s joys and travails [treh-VALES].

British and U-S researchers describe this curve in the journal Social Science and Medicine. The researchers analyzed data from two-million people in eighty countries, rating their levels of depression, anxiety and general health and well-being.

They found most people start out very happy in childhood… at the top left of the “U.” From there, perceived happiness gradually declines into middle age, then rises again when you hit your fifties. By the time you reach seventy, if health isn’t an issue, you could be as happy as a twenty-year-old.

There’s a great deal of variation throughout the world, but on average one’s sense of well-being bottoms out around age forty-eight worldwide… and a few years earlier in the U-S.

American men, however, reach their low point around age fifty-three.

Although each person experiences life uniquely, this U-shaped curve applied regardless of gender, marital status, income and whether or not participants had children.

There are many possible explanations for the overall pattern. One theory? After a life of struggle to achieve goals, middle age is a time we recognize that not all our aspirations will be met. Ironically, coming to terms with that reality can free us to enjoy our lives more.

In other words, maybe it’s time to sit back and relish the ride.