How Happiness Changes as We Age
Have you noticed that your definition of happiness has changed over the years?
Mine sure has and I would venture that the way you view happiness has changed too. Think about it.
What made you happy when you were young?
When I was a child, it actually took very little to make me happy. A family trip to the beach, my Mom’s smile, or a new toy made me giddy. As a teen, going to a party with my friends or buying a new dress had me stoked. If a boy I liked just looked my way, I was skipping the rest of the day. You get the idea.
When you’re young, you typically experience a high-energy, totally-psyched type of happiness. Everything is new and exciting.
How did you feel in your 20’s and 30’s?
In my 20’s, I was finding my way as a young mother and as a writer. Giving birth to my two sons brought me unbounded joy, seeing my first byline sent me to the moon, and traveling was exhilarating.
But by the time I hit my 30’s, I wanted more balance. McGraw Hill published a book I co-authored and I went whitewater rafting on a 5-plus river in New Zealand. But the thrill of the moment wasn’t everything. Sometimes happiness was a quiet evening with a glass of wine and a book at the end of the day.
You may have had similar experiences. Young adults are usually busy chasing success and starting a family. Then they try to find happiness by pursuing balance and stability.
The practical side of life – being able to pay the mortgage and finding enough time to juggle responsibilities – often becomes important to your state of mind as you move into middle age.
Midlife crisis, anyone? Feel like life is passing you by and leaving you in the dust? You’re not alone.
My 40s were a mixed bag. In my early 40’s, I moved back to my home state, California, and felt a bit restless and trapped working for the family business as our family reestablished ourselves. I started a publishing company with my father which never really went anywhere. However, my first book signing at Barnes and Nobles for my young adult novel was super exciting. I learned sign language and became a full-time minister doing volunteer work with the deaf, which was fulfilling.
If you’re like me, you’re older and wiser by the time you hit 50. Perhaps you feel more content because you’ve learned to put less pressure on yourself – both personally and professionally.
The late writer Donald described it well: “Midlife crisis begins somewhere in your 40s, when you look at your life and say, ‘Is this all?’ And it ends about 10 years later when you look at your life again and think, ‘Actually, this is pretty good.’”
As I wrote about in my very first blog, Why Older People are Happier than Baby Boomers, ironically people become more happy as they get old.
I’m 54 right now. My mother was diagnosed with Lewy Body dementia and I became her primary caregiver a few years ago. She died in June and now I am examining my next chapter in life.
The latest ups and downs in my life have made me more aware that what and who we love can be taken away in the blink of an eye. That I need to appreciate my loved ones and be grateful for every day of life I am granted.
No doubt, that’s why people tend to become more content and appreciative as they move into old age. And if you believe all the studies, happier.
So is my experience typical?
A Revealing Study of Bloggers
In an interesting study, social psychologist Jennifer Aaker—with her colleagues Cassie Mogilner and Sep Kamvar – analyzed 12 million personal blogs. Specifically, they were interested in seeing what kinds of emotions bloggers of various ages mentioned when they talked about feeling “happy.”
What did they discover?
“We found that younger bloggers described experiences of happiness as being times when they felt excited, ecstatic, or elated — the way you feel when you’re anticipating the joys the future will bring — like finding love, getting ahead at work, or moving to a new town,” Aaker explained.
“Older bloggers were more inclined to describe happy experiences as moments of feeling peaceful, relaxed, calm, or relieved — the way you feel when you’re getting along with your spouse, staying healthy and able to make your mortgage payments,” she added. “This kind of happiness is less about what lies ahead, and more about being content in your current circumstances.”
Evidently, as you age, you seek out a more tranquil, peaceful, and relaxed kind of happiness compared to the excitement you found so gratifying in your youth. Happiness becomes more about contentment.
What Has Been your Happiest Age So Far?
So do you agree or disagree with their findings? Was your experience with happiness through the decades different than mine? How has your definition of happiness changed as you’ve gotten older? What age were you the happiest and why?
I’d love to know! Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.
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