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Thursday 27th June 2019

Happiness begins again at 50

18th April 2011

A Belgian economist says that happiness is U-shaped, dropping when a person is in their twenties and bouncing back after the age of 50.


Life satisfaction soon begins to fall for those in their hopeful twenties, according to Bert van Landeghem, an economist at Maastricht University in Belgium.

Carefree young adults may have most of the fun, but their optimism and satisfaction soon begins to wane as they take on more responsible roles in life, Landeghem's study found.

On the other side of the U-shaped graph, the over–50s have come to terms with the demands of life, while those in the middle are most weighed down by its burdens.

The study said there was a substantial drop in happiness levels in mid-life, the equivalent to that caused by losing one's job or a close family member.

The study looked at how people perceived their wellbeing, rather than at objective measures.

Landeghem, 29, will present his findings to the Royal Economic Society annual conference. He is expected to warn them that the spirit of youth does not return to the over-fifties, however.

They are simply more satisfied with their lot in life as they age.

While a 65-year-old might prefer to live the life of a 25-year-old, he is still likely to feel more satisfied with the way things are going than a middle-aged man, according to Landeghem.

Learning to be satisfied with what one has is apparently a skill that yields dividends at around 50, the study found.

Previous studies in many different cultures have shown that happiness drops in the middle of a person's life, not just in Western countries.

University College London biology professor Lewis Wolpert has even suggested that happiness could peak as late as 80.

According to Wolpert, most people are "averagely happy" in their teens and 20s, but got progressively less happy as they tried to support a family and career.

Writing in a book called You're Looking Very Well, Wolpert argues that people become ever more cheerful from their mid–forties onwards, possibly reaching a maximum in their seventies and eighties.

The secret appears to be growing maturity, and an ability to focus on the things we enjoy, he writes.

The American National Academy of Sciences found in a recent survey of 341,000 people that enjoyment of life begins an upward trend in the late 40s and does not peak until 85.

The report cited better healthcare provision and opportunities in old age than were previously available.

It said older people enjoy an increased capacity to concentrate on the good parts of life, while cutting out things that we dislike.

Middle–aged adults, on the other hand, are often landed with the responsibility of raising their children and looking after elderly parents at the same time.

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