With age comes wisdom—or so the saying goes. According to a recent study in the Journal of Social Sciences and Medicine, however, substituting “happiness” for “wisdom” may be equally true. While growing happier and more satisfied as we move into our later years may seem counter-intuitive, evidence from the study suggests it’s the case for men and women across the U.S. and around the world. Here’s why…
We hit our low point at 44.
The study, led by researchers in the U.S. and U.K., incorporated data collected from men and women from 80 countries over the course of 35 years. The findings revealed that regardless of gender, nationality, or economic circumstances, human beings tend to experience wellbeing in a “u-shaped curve,” with the least fulfilled years falling in the early-to-mid 40s.
Our outlook improves as we’re pushing 50.
Researchers who study middle age have found similar evidence that after we bottom-out in our mid-40s, or experience that proverbial “midlife crisis,” our mood improves and things start looking up. Why? One reason may be that we get smarter, at least about some things. Certain types of mental tasks may actually become easier in our 50s and 60s, as we apply our accumulated knowledge or “crystallized intelligence” to new information.
We become more goal-oriented.
In our 20s and 30s, we set the bar high for ourselves personally and professionally. If we haven’t achieved those goals by our 40s, that’s when we tend to plunge into the depression and dissatisfaction associated with middle age. By our 50s, we have a more realistic sense of those things that are truly important to us and will bring fulfillment, and we’re able to set new goals and focus on achieving them.
We find satisfaction in our achievements.
If we spend the early decades of our adult years identifying with the Rolling Stones “(Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” by the time we reach our 50s and 60s, we tend to have a change of heart. After our mid-40s reality check and our resulting sense of purpose and renewal, we’re able to take stock of our lives with a clear eye and appreciate where we’ve come, how we got there, and what we achieved along the way. So you didn’t star opposite Meryl Streep on Broadway. You did have two great kids who are becoming two impressive adults and started your own successful business. Which is more meaningful at the end of the day?