Why Happiness Is Your 55th Birthday?

A survey of people in wealthy English-speaking countries, including the United States, Canada, the UK and Australia, found that satisfaction with life was highest at aged 20 before dipping towards its lowest point at around the age of 45 until 54 after which it picks up again and continues to rise. There were similar findings in these countries for the emotional aspects of happiness. According to Princeton University Professor, Angus Deaton, one of the 2014 Steptoe study’s co-authors;

“this was likely because people experienced higher levels of stress, worry and anger in middle age than they did in old age. This finding is almost expected because this is the period at which wage rates typically peak and is the best time to work and earn the most, even at the expense of present well-being, so as to have increased wealth and well-being later in life.”

Economics is only one factor though with the better healthcare of Western wealthy countries reducing the negative affects of ageing. However, when the researchers looked at happiness and mortality, the key to a long life appeared to be a sense of purpose. When older people feel their life has purpose, their chance of dying was dramatically reduced. The study’s authors conclude:

“Even though the results do not unequivocally show that eudemonic well-being is causally linked with mortality, the findings do raise intriguing possibilities about positive well-being being implicated in reduced risk to health.”

However this pattern wasn’t replicated throughout the 160 countries of the survey. Many poorer countries such as the former Soviet Union and the Latin American countries show a simple decline in life satisfaction with age. The only exception was African countries where average life satisfaction remained low throughout the lifespan. Professor Deaton said:

“Economic theory can predict a dip in well-being among the middle age in high-income, English-speaking countries. What is interesting is that this pattern is not universal. Other regions, like the former Soviet Union, have been affected by the collapse of communism and other systems. Such events have affected the elderly who have lost a system that, however imperfect, gave meaning to their lives, and, in some cases, their pensions and health care.”

I have reproduced this report from the excellent PsyBlog.  View full article