Americans over 30 are less happy than they used to be, new research finds.
But teens and young adults in the US are happier than previous generations.
It used to be that older people had a happiness advantage, but that could be disappearing.
That’s the result of surveys of 1.3 million Americans aged 13 to 96 carried out between 1972 and 2014.
Professor Jean M. Twenge, the study’s first author, said:
“Our current culture of pervasive technology, attention-seeking, and fleeting relationships is exciting and stimulating for teens and young adults, but may not provide the stability and sense of community that mature adults require.”
The number of people over 30 who said they were “very happy” has declined from 38% in the 1970s down to 23% in the 2010s.
The equivalent percentage for those aged 18 to 29 has gone up from 28% to 30% over the same timespan.
Teens have also become happier, on average, over the same period.
Professor Twenge said:
“American culture has increasingly emphasized high expectations and following your dreams– things that feel good when you’re young.
However, the average mature adult has realized that their dreams might not be fulfilled, and less happiness is the inevitable result.
Mature adults in previous eras might not have expected so much, but expectations are now so high they can’t be met.”
This drop in happiness was already detected in 2008, but only for women.
Professor Twenge said:
“A previous study in 2008 got quite a bit of attention when it found that women’s happiness had declined relative to men’s.
We now find declines in both men’s and women’s happiness, especially after 2010.”
The study was published in the journal Social Psychological Personality Science (Twenge et al., 2015).
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
Happiness image from Shutterstock