My birthday was last weekend. I turned 42. In addition to being the answer to life, the universe, and everything, 42 also happens to mark a lifetime low point in happiness as reported by various happy researchers … I’m sorry, various happiness researchers. It’s possible to take this news badly, but I look at it like this: I’ve got years of rising happiness levels to look forward to. According to the theory, 42 is about the time you realize that you aren’t actually going to win the Nobel Prize, and so you might as well start enjoying what you’ve got. Please. The rest of us have known for years that you weren’t going to win that prize.
I find happiness studies fascinating. From an episode of the Quirks & Quarks radio program, I learned that there is almost no relationship between things people predict will make them happy and things that measurably lift their levels of reported happiness. Almost none! How did that evolve? Similarly, people grossly overestimate the impact of bad things (job loss, accidents, health crises) on day-to-day happiness levels. Back on the subject of age, older people generally overstate how happy they were in their youth and younger people overstate how miserable they will be as they age. Which all stands to reason, since if Hollywood has succeeded in teaching us anything, it’s that youth = happiness and that old people don’t deserve to appear in movies.
I’m curious to hear your answer to this: if youth equals happiness, then, pop-culturally speaking, what is our “perfect” age? Not the age that you happen to like, but rather that optimal cusp that glossy magazines push at us every day. It is the age that children yearn for and seniors fondly recall. Presumably it is post-drinking age, post-sexual maturity, pre-wrinkle, and pre-hair loss. It is a mysterious still point on a sociological map. I think it’s 24, but it may be 25. What do you think?