happiness

What’s behind midlife malaise? The Happiness U-Curve. And an ageist culture.

 Last month the Atlantic magazine’s cover story described living past 75 as pretty darn inadvisableNow, in quite the about-face, the December cover story champions the Happiness U-Curve (or “U-shaped Happiness Curve," as I’ve been calling it, or “U-bend” in Britspeak): : the growing body of research showing, in writer Jonathan Rausch’s words, that “we reliably grow happier, regardless of circumstances, after our 40s.”

 Happiness U-Curve_DecAtlantic.png

Caption: An analysis by the Brookings scholars Carol Graham and Milena Nikolova, drawing on Gallup polls, shows a clear relationship between age and well-being in the United States. Respondents rated their life satisfaction relative to the “best possible life” for them, with 0 being worst and 10 being best.

 

mellowness awaits, Stephanie

I’m putting a flyer together for my upcoming talk at the KGB Bar, and ran it past a colleague who’s a designer. She got halfway through the headline—“a monologue about why Americans are so ambivalent about growing old”—and blurted, “I’m not ambivalent about it!”

 “How do you feel about getting old?” I asked.

 “I’m terrified!”

 “Do you want to die young?” Stephanie shook her head. 

 “Then you’re ambivalent.” D’oh. 

you could know now what they knew then

At 50, Karl Pillemer had a revelation about his career.  After 25 years as gerontologist, he found himself focused almost entirely on problems like elder abuse and isolation: “the Book of Job for older people,” as he put it at the 2012 Age Boom seminar for journalists. This conformed to the general portrayal of olders as frail and debilitated, and was reinforced by researchers “because focusing on problems is how we get funding.” But not only had this stopped feeling fulfilling, it didn’t jibe with his actual experience, and so an outreach project was born.

age and happiness

Imagine a bunch of 35 year olds and a bunch of 85 year olds.  Which is happier? The 35-year-olds, right? That’s what each group answers.  But ask each to assess its own well-being and the older people come out ahead. This fact surprises (even me! even though I’ve written about it a lot!) because we’re so deeply conditioned to envision life after youth as decline.  Yet it turns out that “Although as people move towards old age they lose things they treasure—vitality, mental sharpness and looks—they also gain what people spend their lives pursuing: happiness.”

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