Smile! (You are getting old)

A recently published Gallup poll of 340,000 people between the ages of 18 and 85 indicates that the happiness waxes, wanes then waxes again in the life cycle of the average American. Late teens note a high sense of satisfaction with life as do people over the age of fifty. What happens in between is another story.

Nicholas Bakalar summarizes the findings of this study in his New York Times article entitled “Happiness May Come With Age, Study Says” ( Bakalar notes: “In measuring immediate well-being — yesterday’s emotional state — the researchers found that stress declines from age 22 onward, reaching its lowest point at 85. Worry stays fairly steady until 50, then sharply drops off. Anger decreases steadily from 18 on, and sadness rises to a peak at 50, declines to 73, then rises slightly again to 85. Enjoyment and happiness have similar curves: they both decrease gradually until we hit 50, rise steadily for the next 25 years, and then decline very slightly at the end, but they never again reach the low point of our early 50s.”

A fascinating set of results, don’t you think? Other studies show that happiness is not directly correlated to the amount of leisure time, so the fact of retirement is not likely driving the increased sense of happiness later in life. Whatever it is, according to this study, fear of the aging process, from the standpoint of happiness, is unfounded. In fact, we are wise to look forward to that time!

What about the no-man’s land that exists between our teen years and our late adult years? In many ways my thoughts for this blog have centered on developing an understanding of the tools necessary to enjoy life more fully in all phases of life. Given the results of this study, I wonder if this collection of ideas might be well-considered by each age group in different ways.

You are as young as you will ever be, right now. Tomorrow you’ll be a little older and hopefully a little wiser and a little happier. My father-in-law noted yesterday that he’s experienced a deeper sense of appreciation for the resource of time now versus when he was a young man. It is a precious resource. The question posed to everyone in life is this: what will you make of it?

I am convinced that happiness is not derived from material possessions, neither is it obtained by accumulating the perfect mix of friends and family and arranging them thus-and-so. There is no “perfect” set of factors or experiences, no red pill that magically makes happiness appear. In fact, happiness is an internal state that is internally driven. Happiness is something that you give to the world around you and that you can and must receive in return, through the attitude of appreciation.

Appreciation is obviously a key, as is an understanding of the principle of reciprocity. Most learn to share at a young age, but the sense of sharing often does not evolve beyond a simple sharing of material possessions. To be happy you must share of yourself, of your soul. To be happy you must learn to look beyond petty grievances, pet peeves, the little things. As you do, you find there is space in your heart and your mind to hold a higher vision for yourself and for those around you.

I look forward to hearing more about why things begin to change at the age of 50, for happiness is one of the elixirs of the fountain of youth. Thank you Mr. Bakalar for your article!


5 thoughts on “Smile! (You are getting old)

  1. Brad

    I had a yoga instructor who would remind us while we were frowning holding some impossible pose that it takes fewer muscles to smile & it opens up the flow of H2O thru the body …… it’s a simple act that can turn into a habit that can be contagious….
    Great post


  2. Doug

    I guess the old saying “Youth is wasted on the young” isn’t the whole story. Or it was said enough that the “older generation decided to “don’t worry, be happy”!
    Now the 20 to 50 range has some thinking to do…thanks for the heads up. It doesn’t have to be this way.


  3. Ed Burns

    Very interesting study Mr. Bakalan reported on. I can’t make up for the wasted opportunities of more youthful days, but I can make sure I make the most of today each day forward. Back to a pilot’s analogy, you can’t wait for the external cues which some have set in their minds, “that’s the day I’ll be happy.” Waiting for the external cues is like the mountainside suddenly appearing out of the fog – it’s too late. Instead use your instruments to keep a sense of wonder and appreciation in play and find the opportunities to give and share happiness.


  4. Colin

    Wow, what a great article! I haven’t hit 50 yet, but as I’m a happy person right now, I look forward to being even happier when I’m older. On the value of time, I always think about this quote from Thoreau: “We are determined to be starved before we are hungry”. While time is precious, it doesn’t matter much what we do if we rush through life and don’t even notice what is going on! Thanks for the awesome post!


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