Increasing Happiness

A recent study found that happiness significantly increases as people pass their 50th birthday. It seems that stress and worry fade after the landmark birthday and people begin experiencing greater daily joy than younger adults. A 2010 survey of more than 340,000 people published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found overall feelings of wellbeing improve as we pass middle age.

Dr Arthur Stone, a psychologist of Stony Brook University, New York, said the findings were “striking”.

You would think as chronic illness threatens life would get worse but that is not the case because people don’t focus on the threats. They focus on the good things in life like family and friends.

The researchers found positive and negative emotions varied with age similarly in both sexes – although women reported greater stress, worry and sadness at all ages. Variables such as having children, being unemployed, or being single did not affect age-related patterns of well being.

Stress and anger reduced in the 20s but worry and anxiety remain a significant issue. Peter S. Kanaris, Ph.D., a psychologist and coordinator of public education for the New York State Psychological Association, observes: Prior to midlife, people are building families, paying mortgages, developing in their careers at a time when there is much more uncertainty than usual. This creates a great deal of stress.

By contrast, the 40s and 50s are actually a time of contentment: People in midlife have reached a time where they are a little more settled and established, he says. With levels of stress and worry all dropping significantly in the fifties, the levels of happiness and enjoyment increase.

Dr Carlo Strenger, of Israel’s Tel Aviv University, gives further food for thought: If you make fruitful use of what you have discovered about yourself in the first half of your life, the second half can be the most fulfiling. Most people can anticipate a second life, if not a second career.

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