Are we happier as we age?

Me, my hubby and pug Waffles at a beach near Santa Barbara.

On one of our morning walks, my husband told me about a continuing education class he was taking.

The topic had to do with age and happiness. It discussed at what age we are the happiest.

I wish I had the charts and info from his studies, but once he completed the course, the info disappeared into a great gulf of technology wasteland.

I googled the topic and found articles that follow what my husband told me. When we are children we are very happy. But what happens as we age?

Here’s what I found from Psychology Today:

Are people happier at age 20 than they will be at age 70?

This was the focus of a new study published in the journal Psychological Science. The research suggests the likely answer is “yes,” but with some important caveats.

“A pervasive concern among many people across the world is that growing older and reaching senior status means leaving their best days behind,” state the researchers. “However, a fair bit of longitudinal and cross-sectional research has shown that levels of happiness remain relatively stable across the life span. Using representative cross-sections from 166 nations (more than 1.7 million respondents), […] we found only very small differences in life satisfaction.”

My husband said he learned that our happiness goes down from childhood through stressful years of college, finding a career, entering our thirties and forties. That’s when we have pressures of paying bills, raising a family and all the hectic busyness that goes along with that phase.

As we leave that life behind, we don’t worry so much about keeping up with the Joneses, or worrying what people think of us. We’re more relaxed and look for happiness in personal relationships and in small things in our day-to-day lives.

By the time we hit 60, we have time to smell the roses, so to speak. The happiness declines slightly well into our 70s and 80s — maybe when things start to hurt physically and we may be more isolated.

Here’s an excerpt from 2015 in an article in Scientific American called “With Age Comes Happiness: Here’s Why” by Marta Zaraska:

Get Happy

  • As people grow older, they tend to experience what psychologists call the age-related positivity effect—an increasing focus on positive events and happy feelings.
  • In imaging studies, elders who concentrate on joy have strong activity in circuits linking the amygdala, involved in emotion, and decision-making regions of the medial prefrontal cortex. Eye-gaze studies show that the older people look longer at upbeat images and away from upsetting ones.
  • Psychologists have found that when individuals of any age are reminded of life’s fragility, their priorities shift toward emotional goals such as feeling happy and seeking meaningful activities.

Of course these studies don’t take into account a lot of factors, like how stressful or chaotic our childhoods were or many of the hardships we may encounter on this journey called life. But I found it interesting.

What are your thoughts about age and happiness? Do you agree disagree that we are happiest in our childhood and then become happier again as get older?

64 thoughts on “Are we happier as we age?

  1. What a fascinating post, Elizabeth! The excerpt from Scientific American niggled something in my memory from Susan Cain’s book Bittersweet. She talked about the research from Dr. Laura Carstensen. People who have experienced life’s fragility – seniors and she also studied young people who lived in Hong Kong during the transition to Chinese rule – have a tendency towards being more grateful and that fuels happiness and joy.

    • The Scientific American article used data from Carstensen’s study. I read “Flourish” by Dr. Martin Seligman and he has a three blessings or gratitude exercise that he says is just as effective or more effective than meds to treat depression and anxiety. There is something very positive about gratitude! Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

  2. Good photo! I don’t know about being happiest in childhood but I do think we are wiser as we get older. We have realized that sometimes it is what it is. Some things you can’t change, so appreciate your experience and do the best with that you have and don’t expect too much from some as some people cannot change. We are more at peace with the idiosyncrasies of life and less need to prove.

    • I think generally children are happy, unless they have a traumatic childhood. I agree that as we get older we do the best with what we have and we’re more at peace. Well said.

      • Thank you! I don’t remember much of my childhood but I remember feeling well taken care of. Mostly, pics are of me sitting quietly reading. Later on, they told me I was so quiet and happy as the only girl in the family-I may have been a bit spoiled back then. I did not lack for much.

  3. I’m not a fan of the word happy, especially as a goal. I think content is better. I was carefree as a child, and with age came different issues, and I’ve been mainly content throughout my life with things that made me happy and sad and angry and elated.

  4. I’ve gotten much happier as I’ve gotten older. My childhood was stressful, my younger adult years were harried, so that my later years [now] seem mellow. And mellow makes me happy.

  5. I wouldn’t say I had a happy childhood, and that same judgement has followed me during various times of my life. I would caution making or believing any assumption that specific times in life are happier than others. Moments and short stretches maybe but I’m not a fan of articles that make blanket or generalized statements or assume things as true overall. As you noted EA- there are so many factors that impact who we are, how we respond and what we feel and those can change drastically and quickly. At 63 in general my life is good. I am healthy, able to live safely where I want, have plenty of time to learn and explore and feel confident about who I am and what my outlook on life is. I think that goes along well with LA’s comment on content. Happy may be a relative and very subjective term 🙂

    • Yes, I do think there are many factors that determine individuals happiness or contentment. I found the studies interesting though. They are looking at millions of people in countries all around the world and finding patterns. I’m the same age as you and feel similar to you. Safe, confident and content with my life. Yes, I also like LA’s word content as opposed to happy.

  6. I think less about at what age we are happy vs at what age are we less afraid, and since happiness and fear comingle, I can say that the older we get, the less afraid we are, and by extension, the happier. When we hit our 60’s and 70’s, goals change. We are no longer wondering about our careers, our earning potential, how people perceive us, or, hell, our possessions or our status in life. We are already at the end of that journey. So, we fear less at 70 than we did at 20. Less unknowns. We are either prepared for senior citizen life, or we are not. A great T-shirt I once saw – “Fear me. I am old and life without parole is less of a deterrent”. Pretty much sums up old age.

  7. I agree that the years between 20-40 are most stressful because life is happening. Family, kids and careers all take a toll. Things start to ease after 45-50. And get a whole lot better around 60.

  8. Love the reference to Seligman (above). 🥰 I love the practice of acknowledging blessings. I’m a believer in the effectiveness of being intentional; I think it’s a wonderful way to swivel the brain toward gratitude.

  9. Honestly I’m not super happy right now . My mom is sick, my husband is falling apart physically and can’t do the things we used to do like go hiking , and we don’t have money to retire . But on the positive side the kids are moving out and getting set up and hubby and I are getting along well. Things could be better or worse .

  10. Love that picture. It makes me happy. I think you can choose to be happy or choose to be miserable. Whenever possible I choose happy. Sure there are ups and downs but if I look at my life over the total 68 years, the happy definitely outweigh the unhappy.

    • I agree with you 100%. We can decide to be miserable or not. There’s plenty to be thankful for and things to do to occupy our time and minds. Thanks for the compliment of the photo. It was taken two summers ago at Carpinteria State Beach by my daughter.

  11. Such a beautiful photo of you and your hubby, looking relaxed and happy. I have always been a rather annoyingly optimistic person and I remain so for the most part as I age. I think the most important barometer for happiness or satisfaction with life is your health. If you don’t have your health it is almost impossible to maintain a sense of joy, the ability to dabble in the things you love, and stay optimistic because the lens with which you view life will always be through your illnesses. I realized this when I got my first migraine in Japan and could only lay on the bed in a dark room moaning. Happiness follows health. Hugs, C

    • You are so correct about health. That’s why my husband and I are focused on health right now. We don’t want to be old and lose our ability to enjoy each day! I went through that realization in 2018 with my ski accident and waiting three months for surgery and then recovery for another six months. Ugh! Thanks about the photo. We were at Carpinteria State Beach with my daughter on vacation, so I was so happy!

  12. What I might term happiness has been a long time coming for me. There were some great times in childhood, but difficult times and abuse. I struggled to deal with anger most of my life. The past five years have really turned things around and I can see all the blessings I’ve had in life. This really is the happiest I’ve ever been. I think things are going to continue in a positive direction. (Hey, I’ve been blogging for five years. Connection? Must be therapeutic.)

    • I’m sure blogging and community has a lot to do with happiness. I know I look forward to reading and commenting on blogs every day. Also, getting my thoughts out there!

  13. Oh this is great EA! My blog touched a bit on this today too. I know that I’m definitely happier now than my 30s and 40s … I felt like I was always behind then no matter if it was work or home. I still have my worries and my good days and bad, but definitely much more sure of myself now!!!! Great post!

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