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    Are We Happier as We Get Older?

    Age dulls the edge of ambition and the frustrations that often stem from it

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    It is said that people grow in wisdom and acceptance with age. We develop the ability to appreciate what we have, instead of ruminating on what we lack. Age dulls the edge of ambition and the frustrations that often stem from it.

    On average, happiness declines as we approach middle age, bottoming out at age 40, but rising again as we approach retirement, according to a number of studies. This so-called U-shaped happiness curve is reassuring, but unfortunately it’s probably not true.

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    My analysis of data from the European Social Survey shows that for many people, happiness actually declines in old age as people grapple with age-related difficulties such as declining health and family bereavement. The U-shaped pattern was not evident in almost half of the 30 countries.

    What accounts for this difference?

    My study corrects a misinterpretation of research methods in previous studies. The idea of ​​the U-shape comes from statistical analyzes that adjust the data to compare people of similar wealth and health in middle and old age. This adjustment aims to isolate the effect of age from other factors that influence happiness.

    But since people tend to be poorer and less healthy in old age, the fit can be misleading. When we omit adjustment, an age-related decline in happiness becomes apparent in many countries.

    This decline is more pronounced in countries with a less effective welfare state. This is especially true of Turkey, where happiness (measured on a scale of zero to ten) falls on average from 6.4 at retirement age to less than 5.0 among the oldest.

    In Estonia, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, happiness declines steadily after age 30. In the Netherlands, on the other hand, happiness increases from the age of 30 and remains stable even in old age. In Finland, happiness remains fairly constant throughout life, above eight on the zero to ten scale.

    In short, there is no universal pattern of happiness. On the contrary, there is a wide range of patterns in different countries. It should not be surprising that different social conditions contribute to different results.

    Nice story

    The U-shape idea is appealing in part because it’s counterintuitive: Sure, life gets harder in old age, but people still get happier. Why? It is said that people grow in wisdom and acceptance with age. We develop the ability to appreciate what we have, instead of ruminating on what we lack. Age dulls the edge of ambition and the frustrations that often stem from it.

    The popular wisdom of psychology tells us that “happiness comes from within.” So maybe people finally sort out their “interiors” in old age, with happiness as the reward.

    It’s a nice story

    But for many societies, that apparent result is an artifact of statistical adjustment that is not appropriate for this topic. Happiness can increase with age as long as people don’t get sick, bereave each other, or start losing friends. That is what statistical adjustment gives us: a result that assumes that nothing is going wrong in old age. However, many people face great challenges when they get older, and it is not surprising that they do not feel tremendously happy.

    I’m not suggesting that people don’t sometimes tidy up their interiors over time. That part of the conventional wisdom of psychology is worth accepting, as it is what is potentially under our control. But my analysis suggests there may be limits to our ability to compensate in this way for the challenges that aging often brings.

    Whether happiness increases or decreases depends on the balance of these competing forces (great challenges and mental adaptation), and a positive outcome is not guaranteed.

    To clarify the patterns, we need an analysis that reflects what really happens when people age. When we do the analysis this way, the U-shape disappears for many countries, mainly because many people are not, in fact, happier as they get older.

    https://gnosiscr.com/
    https://gnosiscr.com/

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