The Road to Happiness

Happiness often sneaks in through a door you didn't know you left open.  John Barrymore

We all want to be happy.  In fact, "the pursuit of happiness" is one of the fundamental rights demanded in the Declaration of Independence, right along with "life" and "liberty."   But staying happy tends to be difficult as we grow older and we find ourselves wrapped up in all the complex problems we face in our day-to-day lives.    With all the daily hassles, job pressures, financial woes, and the aches and pains that come with being human, happy has a way of being elusive. 

Even defining what we mean by happiness can be tricky.   Depending on what is happening  at any given moment, happiness can range from simple contentment to the kind of joy that only occurs at key points in our lives.   If we simply define happiness in terms of the amount of positive emotion we happen to be feeling at any given moment,  research suggests that happiness tends to increase over time unless health problems develop.   As we grow older, we (usually) become better at regulating our emotions and also acquire more memories of positive moments in our lives.  

Still, research looking at how happiness grows and changes across lifespan has yielded conflicting conclusions about when people are most likely to be happy.  While cross-sectional studies comparing adults in different age groups have suggested that happiness is highest in late adolescence or early adulthood, longitudinal research suggest that happiness is greatest in seniors.   One study using longitudinal data from the Midlife in the United Status research project found that positive affect was relatively stable across adults in their mid-20s to late thirties, declining during the 40s, and slowly rising afterward to hit its peak from 60 to 69.  All of which suggests that those proclaiming "60 is the new 40" may be right after all. 

To read more, check out my new Psychology Today blog post.



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