“This is the worst day of my life,” Bart Simpson complains at one point in the Simpsons movie.
“The worst day of your life so far,” Homer gently corrects.
What’s true for Bart is true for most of us younger than 50 or so, according to a new analysis of life satisfaction encompassing seven massive surveys and 1.3 million randomly sampled people from 51 countries.
Happiness, those surveys show, follow a generalized U-shape over the course of a life: People report high degrees of happiness in their late teens and early 20s. But as the years roll by, people become more and more miserable, hitting a nadir in life satisfaction sometime around the early 50s. Happiness rebounds from thereinto old age and retirement.
If you plot the age-happiness curves from all seven of those surveys on the same chart , the shapes of the curves, rather than any absolute value, are what’s important. The surveys asked about happiness in different ways – some framed it in terms of “satisfaction,” while others asked people to rate where they fell between “happy” and “unhappy.” So the absolute values of each line aren’t directly comparable.
Two things stand out: First, the curves all follow the same general U-shaped trajectory. Youth and old age are periods of relative happiness, while middle age is something of a rock bottom. Second, they generally agree that the bottom of that U hits some time in the early 50s.
These similarities are even more remarkable given the differences in the underlying surveys, which were administered in different countries. They include the General Social Survey…
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