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Science Has Shown Happiness Comes With Age (No Matter How We've Lived Until Then)
Have you ever thought to yourself, “I’m so much happier now than I used to be?”
If not, don’t worry: you’ll get there. All you need to do is age a little. That’s what science says, anyway.
Humans are programmed to be able to adapt to their surroundings, but the social and emotional pressures that go along with growing up—not to mention unpredictable events along the way, like a death in the family—don’t make this very easy.
It turns out scientific research continues to point toward evidence that we really are happier the older we get. Happiness comes with age—no matter the hardships, minor or severe, we’ve faced throughout our lives.
Here’s a little hope, backed by science, for those who aren’t where they want to be in life, and wonder if they’ll ever be as happy as they’d like to be.
What is happiness?
When we look at the dictionary definition of happiness—good fortune, pleasure or joy—it’s hard to believe that, according to science, no matter how much misfortune or misery we might encounter as we migrate through life, we’ll still be happier 10, 20, even 50 years from now than we are right now.
That disbelief is challenged, however, when we consider that happiness is nothing more than a much broader idea of the concept psychologists call life satisfaction, or a person’s thoughts and feelings toward the daily ins and outs of their lives.
Life satisfaction, a narrower, more scientific way to measure happiness among populations, is what researchers have more recently used to analyze how people’s happiness changes over time.
A study found that happiness in groups increases with age.
In 2013, a study was published suggesting the overall happiness of the general population tends to increase the older they get. Researchers analyzed data that included self-reported levels of happiness spanning across thousands of people over 30 years. This data was taken from two large-scale studies conducted by the National Institute of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and used as a way to infer how the ways our world is changing, such as high unemployment rates, might impact the well-being of younger generations of people.
They found a trend within that data that suggested while overall well-being of older adults appeared lower than younger adults, life satisfaction in those participants increased over time. As they got older, their thoughts and feelings about their lives became, overall, more positive.
Using the same definition of happiness as summarized in the section above, we can therefore speculate that in general, throughout our lifetimes, the levels of satisfaction we feel when we reflect on, live through and plan ahead for the various stages of our lives will incline.
What does this mean for us?
Life is a series of hills and valleys. We all go through hardships and, whether we’re able to believe it or not, come out on the other side stronger than we ever were before.
The older we get, the more different types of experiences we endure as we continue to adapt to our surroundings, and as science suggests, the happier we will become.
So what if you’re not quite at a point in your life where you have to take a step back and ask yourself, “Why am I happier now?” The truth is, that’s okay. Remember Maslow’s hierarchy, that triangle of basic human needs you learned about in health class? Our needs are never completely satisfied. We’re always going to be on the lookout for the next best thing, to keep ourselves energized, to find new ways to make us, and those around us, happy.
That pursuit, as the years go by, is exactly what we live for.
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