That partly depends on the country in which you live. Good news for Americans: reported well-being does increase—after age 44 or so.


According to a recent study from Gallup World, the relationship between happiness and age follows a U-curve:  Americans tend to become less content through their 20s and 30s—as they jostle for a place in the world and adjust their youthful dreams to reality.


According to the study, the real low point often comes in middle age—but why?  Dealing with teenage kids on one side, and aging parents on the other (hello sandwich generation), may explain why stress levels spike for many during this period. Then, as retirement approaches and kids start flying the coop, people may be less likely to worry or feel as stressed.


Cultural factors seem to play a big part, too, according to Carol Graham of the Brookings Institution:


  • In Russia, after that middle-aged dip, well-being does not increase again as it does in the USA and most other places.
  • In China, that late-life surge of happiness is even more marked than it is in America—partly due, perhaps, to an ingrained culture of respect for older people in that country.


What does seem consistent across cultures is the connection between staying active—either through voluntary work or paid employment—and better mental health.


Source: "Countries for Old Men (and Women)," Bloomberg.com, April 2014


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