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Life gets better after 50: why age tends to work in favour of happiness

The midlife slump

That midlife slump (not to be confused with a midlife crisis) is often nothing - just a natural transition due to the passing of time.

Those likely to notice it are people that seem to have everything going for them; they're achieving their goals, and nothing much changed, yet they feel less satisfied than they expected and think there must be something wrong with their lives.

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Life gets better after 50: why age tends to work in favour of happiness

Life gets better after 50: why age tends to work in favour of happiness

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/may/05/happiness-curve-life-gets-better-after-50-jonathan-rauch

theguardian.com

5

Key Ideas

The happiness curve

There is increasing evidence that happiness through adulthood is U-shaped.

Life satisfaction falls in our 20s and 30s, then hitting a low in our late 40s before increasing until our 80s.

The midlife slump

That midlife slump (not to be confused with a midlife crisis) is often nothing - just a natural transition due to the passing of time.

Those likely to notice it are people that seem to have everything going for them; they're achieving their goals, and nothing much changed, yet they feel less satisfied than they expected and think there must be something wrong with their lives.

When the U-curve occurs

According to a study by economists, the U-curve is generally noticed at age 46. It tends to appear in wealthier countries.

However, some economists and psychologists factor in the possibility that those who become happier in the studies are the same people who are content in their early years.

Values change with age

When we are young, we are often over-optimistic about the satisfaction we will gain out of our future successes. With age, as our ambition drives us to more, we don't feel the satisfaction we expected, so we wonder if there's something wrong with us.

It is only once we realize that our values change with age - in that we savor other simpler pursuits such as relationships, a hobby, or volunteer work - that we gain satisfaction.

Untapped wisdom

There is a huge amount of untapped wisdom and potential in older people.

Because of the happiness curve, they are often in a position where they desire to give back by being mentors, volunteers, or work easier jobs, which allow them to use their skills.

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Mid-career crises do not discriminate

The age-related curve in job satisfaction has been found in more than 50 countries. It affects senior-level executives as well as blue-collar workers, stay-at-home parents, childless couples and single people.

Generally, life satisfaction is high when people are young, it starts to decline in the early 30s and is the lowest between mid-40s and mid-50s. Then it increases again to levels as high as during young adulthood.

Life aspirations
  • Young people are overly optimistic and expect significant increases in life satisfaction. 
  • As we age, we become disillusioned as our aspirations evaporate. 
  • When we bottom out, we come to terms with our circumstances and accept life. 
  • People over 50 tend to underestimate their future satisfaction, and increases come as an unexpected surprise, which raises satisfaction levels.

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A midlife crisis
A midlife crisis

The disappointment with life is often the difference between our expectations for ourselves and what life actually holds for us.

According to research, people's happiness forms a U shape ove...

The trend is worldwide

People’s happiness is the lowest around the ages of 47 to 49. The dip in happiness is the same everywhere: In America, Germany, Thailand, Pakistan, even in countries with a lower life expectancy.

Happiness dip causes

The happiness dip may have to do with getting real - finding that our dreams are not going to happen. That can be a painful reality check.

If we don't use the midlife self-reflection positively, we may become disillusioned and make rash decisions or end relationships that can be damaging to our well-being.

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Well-being of adults
Well-being of adults
  • Studies show that most adults' happiness declines through their 30s and 40s, then hit a low in their early 50s.
  • After that, studies show that, in wealthier countries, most peop...
The memory of past success

Current achievements provide happiness, but the memory of past accomplishments do not appear to produce long-lasting happiness.


The waning of ability in people of high accomplishment is particularly difficult psychologically. Retired athletes struggle profoundly after their sports career ends. They are prone to depression, addiction, or suicide.

"Unhappy is he who depends on success to be happy. For such a person, the end of a successful career is the end of the line. His destiny is to die of bitterness or to search for more success in other careers and to go on living from success to success until he falls dead. In this case, there will not be life after success."

"Unhappy is he who depends on success to be happy. For such a person, the end of a successful career is the end of the line. His destiny is to die of bitterness or to search for more success in other careers and to go on living from success to success until he falls dead. In this case, there will not be life after success."

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