When are the best years of our life? Is it during childhood, when we only have schoolwork to worry about; our early 20s, partying through the weekends; into our 30s and 40s, with a more developed lifestyle and the money to help it; or even retirement, when we get to focus on the things that truly make us happy?
A new large study sought to find out, and according to a sample of over 50s looking back over their life, the answer is between age 30-34. The study was published in Springer Social Indicators Research.
Now, don’t panic – this is purely a statistical curve and 30-34 is simply at the peak. Variances between the age of the participant and their life events of course influence the result massively, as well as which country they are from. France, for example, maintained a similar level of happiness from their mid-20s to age 80.
The data was pulled from a retrospective module called SHARELIFE, which included over 17,000 people from 13 different countries. They provided a historical review of past stages of their life and were asked about the happiest stage of their life, among other questions.
However, when accounting for all countries and sex, the results demonstrate a clear peak at 30-34, suggesting these were the happiest years of most people’s lives. From there, a period of similar happiness lasted for decades in some participants, but it does suggest that during the early years of life, our perception of happiness evolves. Changes in personal and family life result in a sharp upward trend during our 20s, improving our wellbeing until it peaks (and in some cases plateaus) for the years to come.
The authors do note that these results are heavily influenced by the ability of older people to recall past periods of their life. It is difficult to discern whether the participants are accurately recalling those periods, or whether they are imagining what that period of their life would be like with today’s living conditions.
Interestingly, the researchers believe that these results go beyond improving our ‘enjoy it while it lasts’ mindset – they could influence policy. Older people are more likely to vote for policies that directly impact the stage of life they are in, with pensions and healthcare being high on their agendas, and are less likely to vote for policy orientated towards young people. This may be due to a perceived shrinking of happiness as they age.
Regardless, the main takeaway of the survey is that even though happiness may peak in the middle stages of life, it appears to age like fine wine, which is certainly comforting no matter what stage of life you may be in.