People get happier as they get older, research finds.
Surveys of Americans carried out between 1972 and 2004 show that older people are the nation’s happiest.
Across the different generations, around 50% of people over the age of 80 said they were ‘very happy’.
It may be because older, more mature people are likely to be more at ease with themselves and to have higher self-esteem.
Dr Yang Yang, the study’s author, said:
“Understanding happiness is important to understanding quality of life.
The happiness measure is a guide to how well society is meeting people’s needs.”
For the series of surveys a representative cross-section of Americans was asked the following question:
“Taken all together, how would you say things are these days–would you say that you are very happy, pretty happy, or not too happy?”
The responses also teased out some interesting wrinkles.
The so-called ‘baby boomer’ generation, those born between 1946 and 1964, were less happy than other equivalent generations.
Dr Yang said:
“This is probably due to the fact that the generation as a group was so large, and their expectations were so great, that not everyone in the group could get what he or she wanted as they aged due to competition for opportunities.
This could lead to disappointment that could undermine happiness.”
The study also found that African Americans are, on average, less happy than whites.
Among 18-year-olds, just 15% of black men said they were very happy in comparison to 33% of white women.
In fact, women were more happy than men overall, across racial and class divides.
Over the years, needless to say, having a significant other and having your health make you much more happy.
One surprise, to some perhaps, is that having no children increases the chances of being happy over the lifetime.
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
The study was published in the journal American Sociological Review (Yang, 2008).