According to a study done by the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics (Motto: “Home of the Tap-Dancing Economists”), there are two specific ages at which people are happiest. Can you guess what they are?
Go ahead; I’ll wait.
The correct answer is 23 and 69.
The theory is that 23-year olds overestimate their future happiness. They believe they’ve got nowhere to go but up, and that everything they’ve got planned for their lives will come to pass.
And then, according to this study, it’s all downhill for about two decades until things start to get better until your happiness once again peaks…and then you die.
This is not the first study to report these findings. Although the specific ages are open to debate (as demonstrated by the highly scientific chart at right), researchers consistently find that human contentment follows a U-shaped pattern that has been observed in more than 50 nations. It also doesn’t seem to be affected by financial situations or social classes. So when Donald Trump turns 69, he will be no happier, relatively-speaking, than I’ll be at 69, while I, hopefully, will be much less of a nut job.
Frankly, though, I find this whole thing hard to believe, unless the studies left out everyone under 10. Three-year-olds, for instance, generally seem pretty darned happy to me. They play, eat, poop and sleep. That’s a pretty good life, very similar to my dog’s, with the additional advantage of being able to indicate exactly what they want without spinning in a circle and staring at you with puppy eyes. And babies–what do they have to be unhappy about? Everything’s new, they don’t have any aspirations besides burping, and they can’t really be disappointed with anything because they don’t know that, for example, you bought the $59 car seat instead of the $300 one, you cheap bastard.
So, again, I’m guessing kids were left out of this study.
And I suppose 23 makes sense as a happy age. Those of us in our late 50’s and early 60’s can understand why 23-year-olds are so ecstatic. For one thing, they can get up from a chair without groaning. But what the hell do 69-year-olds have to be happy about (besides still being alive)?
Researcher Hannes Schwandt, who, perhaps significantly, is 30, says:
“One theory is that the U-shape is driven by unmet aspirations which are painfully felt in midlife but beneficially abandoned later in life.”
In other words, people in their late 60’s are happy because they’ve finally gotten over all the regrets they felt in their 50’s when they realized that all the dreams they had in their 20’s never came to pass.
I should point out here that, like a study about optimists and pessimists that I reported on a few months ago, Schwandt’s happiness study was conducted using Germans, a nationality that takes a tremendous amount of glee from wearing lederhosen. I mean, Nazis aside, your stereotypical German is not known for a carefree, laid back attitude. Even the language is not exactly conducive to good times. As proof, I offer this Google translation* of a verse from Simon & Garfunkel’s “59th Street Bridge Song,” possibly one of the happiest, most laid back ditties of all time:
Verlangsamen, bewegen Sie sich zu schnell.
Sie haben, um die letzten Morgen.
Gerade tretend Festlegung der Pflastersteine.
Auf der Suche nach Spaß und Feelin’ groovy.
Yikes! If you tried to “kick down the cobblestones” singing that, you’d probably trip and choke on your pflastersteine. And note that, apparently, Germans can’t even feel groovy in their own language.
Seriously, why do they keep doing these studies with Germans? Is it because only Germans are willing to participate? Do the researchers pay their subjects in sausage and beer? Are fun-loving North Koreans unavailable?
Well, anyway, I’m glad I have something to look forward to besides Medicare. But I wonder… when I’m 69, will I be three times as happy as a 23-year-old?
See you soon.
*If there are any Germans among my readers, feel free to leave a comment about how joyous you are. If there are any German speakers among my readers, blame Google for any inaccuracies in this translation.