Happiness is U-Shaped

Posted by 4 September, 2008

According to Jerry Kennard (article), if we could draw out a diagram over our lifetime, our happiness level would be in the form of a “U”. If there is in fact a midlife crisis, that would of course fall in the middle of our lifetime at the bottom of the curve. The study suggests that this is independent of gender, economic status, and a range of other factors.

Here’s a look at The Guardian in an article published this year (link).

They found that the following may be the reason for this U-shaped happiness curve:

“However, one possibility is that individuals learn to adapt to their strengths and weaknesses, and in mid-life quell their infeasible aspirations. Another possibility is that cheerful people live systematically longer.”

A third possibility is that older people might compare their lives with their peers’. Seeing their friends die could mean people value their remaining years more highly.”

My take is that at the beginning of the U-shape, or early on in life, people are generally too ignorant and lack the life experience to know that life isn’t always easy. Sometimes, there are bumps in the road. The age old question of “would you rather be dumb and happy or smart and miserable” comes to mind.

Later in life, it seems as though a lot of people become disillusioned. They had all of these life long goals that they feel will never come to fruition. And why didn’t they? Some people have had extenuous circumstances. Other people may claim that “life got in the way while they were making other plans” in the form of work, children and other responsibilities. But, as I heard from a speaker the other evening, “you are in life exactly where you want to be”.

Later in life, when the happiness curve is heading upwards, people may be coming to terms with their “life’s work”. I also agree with the author from The Guardian that “seeing their friends die could mean people value their remaining years more highly”.

Does happiness in your life have to take the form of a U-shape? I hope not. Thankfully, we all have choices in life. What are you going to choose?

Here are some other articles I found on the topic:

@ Ethelbert’s Transcripts

@ Smart Economy

@ So When are You Going to Retire


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September 4, 2008

I really like your take on this. Somehow I don’t doubt that our happiness looks like a U. It seems kind of sad that it happens to everyone. I am hoping to make my happiness look more like straight upward curve. 🙂

September 4, 2008

I remember reading that study. I couldn’t decide if I was really pleased I’ll probably die happier than I am now, or if I was bummed that I’m doomed to the downward trend for years to come.

I agree with you that I hope my life doesn’t follow the U path. I can’t imagine spending many of the best years of my life feeling like they’re the worst. What a waste!

September 4, 2008

@ Nathalie – Upward curve, sounds good to me 🙂
@ Sara – You’re right. You only have one life, we might as well make the best of it!

Posted by HIB
September 10, 2008

I kind of hope this is true, because I feel like I’m on the part of the U that goes back up. A couple years ago the fact that I was miserable in my job was flowing over into how I felt about my life. I retired 6 months ago and I just keep getting happier and happier. I would love to think it’s only going to get better from here!

Posted by Retired Syd
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