Are you happy? Are you 42?

The Guardian has a good article on the up-and-coming science of Happy Studies… or rather the study of happiness. It’s easy to make fun of, but it sure seems like important work. The sub-head for the article sums up the modern happiness paradox well:

Most of us are healthier and wealthier than ever before, yet an increasing number claim to be unhappy. Is it the stress of modern life? Or are we simply losing our capacity for joy?

One way, it develops, to optimize your happiness is to avoid dangerous questions like “How close are you to your optimal happiness levels?” In other words, just enjoy your drab, wretched life. It’s really for the best that you not see the blazing sunshine of bliss that daily drenches your well-adjusted friends and neighbors. Or as the article quotes John Stuart Mill, “Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so.” Most intriguingly of all, one researcher finds a happiness trough at age 42 (I prefer to think of it as a misery peak, but hey, I’ve always been an optimist).

“People start out in life pretty certain that they’re going to end up like David Beckham or win the Nobel Prize,” says Oswald. “Then, after a few years, they discover it’s quite tough out there – not just in their careers, but in life. Unsurprisingly, their happiness drops.” The good news is that the downer doesn’t last. According to Oswald, if you trace the trajectory of most peoples’ happiness over time it resembles a J-curve. People typically record high satisfaction levels in their early twenties. These then fall steadily towards middle age, before troughing at around 42. Most of us then grow steadily happier as we get older, with those in their sixties expressing the highest satisfaction levels of all – as long, that is, as they stay healthy.

The moral of the story is, when you go through your mid-life crisis, don’t wreck your health. Your happier, older self will thank you.

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