We have all been taught that is doesn’t help to wallow in our sorrows. If you fall down, pick yourself up, and try again. Feeling sorry for yourself solves nothing. And so it goes on and on. However, “the worst day of our lives” doesn’t occur just once. It’s just the worst day, so far, particularly for those under the age of 50.
An analysis of seven massive surveys and 1.3 million randomly sampled people from 51 countries reveal a pattern in our “happiness” meters. Over the course of a lifetime, people experience a generalized U-shaped pattern of happiness. People in their late teens and early twenties reported a high degree of happiness (their whole lives are ahead of them, aging and death happen to other people). As the years go by, people become more and more miserable and hit a low in life satisfaction in their early 50s (life becomes a finite thing and the years are no longer endless to accomplish what you truly want to). However, happiness comes back on the rebound as one approaches retirement and the fourth quarter of their lives.
The shape of the curves all showed the same general U-shaped trajectory even though they asked about happiness in different ways – level of satisfaction; rate where they fell between happy and unhappy. Youth and longevity were period of relative happiness, while middle age was a rock bottom event. All of the surveys agreed the bottom of the U hit sometime around the early 50s. Even more provocative, the surveys were done in different countries.
It must be noted that rock bottom in the chart does not necessarily mean absolute misery. Everything is relative. People in their 50s will rate their lives satisfactory in the mid to high range, but that is substantially lower than how people in their teens or early 20s rate their happiness. The difference is caused by living life – the sense of well-being caused by getting a divorce or losing a job. There are other factors known to affect happiness such income and health. It is a psychological “low” where, in a country like ours, middle age is a particularly stressful time. People are often at the peak of their careers (and that that entails) and many are dealing with adolescent children and older parents.
So, what does all this mean? For those under 50, if you’re having a bad day, statistically speaking, things will get worse before they get better. For those of us over 50, the worst should be behind us and the days of wine and roses on the rise.
What do you think?