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Going Back up Before Finally Going Down

Old people are happier than young people, according to an article I read in the Economist.  Studies show that people have a declining happiness from youth until their mid-40s.  In your forties, many people go through the mid-life crisis, when you realize that you probably won’t achieve all those things you aspired when you were still a callow youth.  Age 46 is the nadir, but also the turning point; after you start to get happier again.

I suggest you look at the article linked above for details.  The authors discuss some of the objections that might be raised about the data-sets.  But they explain that the results hold even when you control for income, education, location etc.   Of course, these things make a difference. Richer people are generally happier than poorer people, for example, but the age differences hold when adjust for such things.

There are a few interesting permutations. Women tend to be happier than men, as a group, but women also suffer depression at significantly higher rates.  Some people are naturally happier than others in ways that you might expect. Some neurotic Woody Allen types can never be happy even in good times, while outgoing people are often happy even when conditions around them suck.  Another interesting apparent contradiction is that when asked about OTHER people, both young and old say that younger people are happier, but when you ask them about their OWN happiness, the older guys come out on top.

It is hard to remember with certainty, but I think I am happier now than I was twenty-five years ago. I don't remember being unhappy back then, BTW, but I have reasons to be happier now. Life is easier.  It is exciting to start out in life and a career, but it comes with lots of stress and uncertainty. I used to feel like I was falling behind.  At this stage of my life, I know what I have achieved and what I am likely to in the future and it is good enough. Maybe you just get used to being "average."  The article quotes the philosopher William James who said. “How pleasant is the day when we give up striving to be young—or slender.”

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