Aging and Happiness

I recently heard a TED talk from Josh Prager about his book 100 Years, which contains pithy statements from famous writers on every year of life.

It is a beautiful talk, and the sayings are very well chosen. Many will hit home; they sure did for me.

What I found curious from those sayings was that some of the happiest people were ones in their sixties and older. I’d expected that happiness peaks alongside vigour and declines side by side with it, all other things being equal.

The research around this topic states that we have two peaks - one in our twenties, and another in our sixties. Between the two, happiness declines every decade. Very curious indeed. I wonder what causes it.

I’m in my forties now. I can honestly say I’ve never been more comfortable in my skin, so my experience doesn’t tally with the norm.

My teens were chaotic and not particularly happy. My twenties were much better; I felt like I was finally finding my place in the world, and while I had my ups and downs, overall, I wouldn’t trade anything to be ten years younger. My thirties were around the same as my twenties - a patchwork of emotions. But my forties? Best so far.

It puzzles me that we have so little understanding of how age affects us in ways other than the physical. There are certainly many sayings in every language about the characteristics of youth versus age, but there isn’t a set of definitive scientific studies I’m aware of. (I’m basing this from not having read any pop-sci book around this :) ). There’s so much rich ground to mine on this topic -  not only is there a wealth of data available from the medical community in any country with a subsidized healthcare system, but there’s also a ton of self-reported data in writing. So many PHDs could be made!

One final thought - through the ages, how we view ourselves in our fifties is how someone a few centuries ago would have placed themselves in their mid-to-late thirties! We humans have managed to neatly compartmentalize and scale our life stages to our life expectancy.

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