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Don’t Worry- Be Happy- Unless You’re Age 44

Posted by Jane Akre
Tuesday, January 29, 2008 10:25 AM EST
Category: On The Road, Major Medical, Protecting Your Family, In The Workplace
Tags: FDA and Prescription Medicine, Toxic Substances, Drug Products

Unhappiness peaks in the 40s and 50s for men and women. Otherwise most people are happy.

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It might seem weird but two million people from 80 countries can’t be wrong. 

Researchers have found an unexplainable consistency in how people feel when they reach the age of 44 - depression sets in for both men and women with it peaking at that age.  

One million people from the U.K were sampled in data spanning more than 35 years from Albania to Zimbabwe.   Depression, anxiety, mental well-being, happiness and satisfaction were measured.

For unhappiness, both men and women were affected. In U.S. data, women reached the unhappiness peak around age 40, while it was age 50 for men.  Looking at a U-shaped curve the low point hit at those ages showing that younger and older people are happier. 

72 out of  80 countries studied showed the U-shape curve.  Developing countries had a less pronounced U-curve. And interestingly, economic growth does not make a country happier.

There is good news. Once you go through your 40’s happiness returns. A healthy 70-year-old is shown to be as happy as a 20-year-old.

Why does this happen? No one knows but Professor Andrew Oswald, an economist  at the University of Warwick says no matter rich or poor, young or old, single or married, the effect is large.

His theory- “One possibility is that individuals learn to adapt to their strengths and weaknesses, and in mid-life quell their infeasible aspirations,” he said.

Or it might be that cheerful people just live longer. Another theory is that we are comparing ourselves to the achievements of others, many of who are dying and we re-evaluate our remaining years.

“Perhaps people somehow learn to count their blessings," he says.

The economist has been looking into happiness to determine if it can be built in a systematic way into a society.  

Among those happiest, the employed, women, people with lots of friends, healthy, wealthy and highly educated.  And a clean environment makes us happy.  In Western nations most people seem happy with their lives, the report concludes.

A Princeton researcher, economist Angus Deaton, says the pattern doesn’t hold true globally. 

"Young people are happier in some countries, and in some countries middle-aged are happy. It depends on which country," he says. "In my data, it's true if you look some places, older people are really miserable relative to younger people. It's not U-shaped. (Happiness is) just going down."

But researcher Oswald says the correlation of well-being with age after factoring in 100 other influences is the best evidence they have. “In 2008, social science can’t do better than this.”

The study by the University of Warwick in Britain and Dartmouth College in New Hampshire appears in the upcoming issue of Social Science & Medicine. #

 


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