If you thought the carefree days of your youth were behind you, or that happiness was a thing for the young, have we got a surprise for you. Scientists from Germany and Switzerland recently pinpointed the age at which people are happiest, and it’s not your twenties. Or your thirties. Or your forties. Or even your fifties. Or even...you get the point.
Believe it or not, an analysis of 443 studies comprised of more than 460,000 participants found that the happiest time in people's lives is when they reach 70 years old.
“We focused on changes in three central components of subjective well-being,” study co-author Professor Susanne Bücke explained in a statement. “Life satisfaction, positive emotional states, and negative emotional states.”
The research team found that life satisfaction decreased a bit between the ages of 9 and 16, surprising no one who has ever gone through the agony of middle and high school. After that, though, life satisfaction increased steadily for the next five decades and peaked at 70. From 70 to 94 — should we be so lucky — life satisfaction slowly declined.
Conversely, positive emotional states decreased from age 9 through 94. Negative emotional states bounced around a bit between 9 and 24, decreased until age 60, and then increased again.
“Overall, the study indicated a positive trend over a wide period of life if we look at life satisfaction and negative emotional states,” Bücke said. “This could be related to the fact that in very old people, physical performance decreases, health often deteriorates, and social contacts diminish; not least because their peers pass away.”
At some level, the findings make obvious sense. Adolescence is hard. Your twenties may be super-fun, but they don’t tend to be people’s most financially secure decade — and peak parenting years of your late twenties to forties are associated with a reduction in life satisfaction that rebounds after the kids move out. Meanwhile, for the very old, lack of physical mobility, independence, and declining health are difficult hurdles to navigate. But the assertion that someone in their 50s is happier than someone in their twenties might be difficult to swallow (especially for the 50-year-old).
Interestingly enough, these findings contradict previous research that suggested the thirties as the happiest decade of life. One study found the U-shaped curve is the most correct assessment of happiness over the course of one’s life: that happiness is high when you’re young, hits rock bottom in midlife and rises again as you enter the golden years. That scenario has people reaching peak unhappiness around age 47 in the U.S. That study also found that parents aren’t more likely to be unhappy, but parents experiencing financial strain are more likely to become unhappy than non-parents.
One thing these studies have in common, though? They give us hope that it only gets better from middle age, and by the time people hit 70, they might just be happier than they’ve ever been before.