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Happy New Year! Or is it?

Just when research seemed to confirm that we get happier and more content as we grow older, another study comes along with the opposite conclusion. So which is it?

Back when I was surveying women in their 50s and 60s for my PhD research, I was surprised to learn that the older women invariably had higher mental health scores. But as one of my supervisors pointed out, that’s how it goes: once women get through menopause they’re happier on the other side. 

Then I came across a concept called the U-Curve of Happiness which argues that we’re pretty happy in our youth, we struggle while we’re establishing careers and families, but by our (late) 50s things are picking up again.

Data for the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Wellbeing Index have been collected twice a year for 16 years with about 60,000 people. It also shows that the 55+ cohort is the happiest. In fact, the happiest souls seem to be those aged 75+.

Recently though, a report from the Melbourne Institute says that we’re happiest as 15-year-olds and it’s downhill from there. Ew! Things look up briefly at age 65 as we anticipate retirement, but the decline continues after that and we’re least happy in our latter years. 

The researchers for this study claim that the reason that other studies have shown us to be relatively chirpy in old age is that miserable people have more health problems and have died by then. 

(Most families seem to include someone who contradicts that though — they’re miserable, they let you know it, and they stick around for a really long time.) 

I’m not sure how useful it is trying to identify which age group is happiest; most life stages come with their ups and downs.

My beef with people who moan about old age (‘It’s not for sissies’ and so on) is that statistics on the whole don’t bear that out and we can’t generalise.

What makes us happy isn’t set in stone either. 

According to the Bureau of Statistics happiness depends on three things: financial security, a sense of purpose and good relationships. 

But interpretations of what constitutes financial security are wildly varied, and relationships can include everything from looking after your grandkids to having a cat. Volunteering — doing something for someone else — fits in there too.

The best bet is probably to decide what does it for you, to make sure you have those things in your life, and to appreciate it when you have what’s important. 

In that respect it’s up to us. At every age. Because Heaven knows, life’s not for sissies. 

Photo Source: Bigstock

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Thursday, January 26, 2017 | Rhonda Anderson