...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...It looks from the data like something happens deep inside humans. For the average person in the modern world, the dip in mental health and happiness comes on slowly, not suddenly in a single year...Only in their 50s do most people emerge from the low period. But encouragingly, by the time you are 70, if you are still physically fit then on average you are as happy and mentally healthy as a 20-year-old. Perhaps realising that such feelings are completely normal in mid-life might even help individuals survive this phase better.
Friday, February 08, 2008
Middle Age Misery
Blanceflower and Oswald have done a fascinating study (PDF here) showing that across cultures, from Azerbaijan to Zimbabwe, we are happiest towards the beginning and end of our lives, leaving us most miserable in middle years between 40 and 50. For both men and women in the UK, the probability of depression peaked at around the age of 44. In the US, men were most likely to be unhappiest at 50, while for women the age was 40. The cause of the apparent U-shaped curve is not known. Quoting Oswald (the graphic is from his website):