New studies show that we are at our happiest when we are young.We are also happy when we are older,but interestingly,the period of greatest unhappiness usually occurs while we are in our middle age.These findings surprised the researchers who reached their conclusions only after studying the comparative happiness of more than 2 million people in over 80 different countries.Apparently,people's sense of well-being follows a U-shaped route throughout their lives.Their sense of well-being peaks at the beginning of their lives and during their twilight years,but dips in middle age.In Britain,for example,men are at their unhappiest when they are 50 and at 40 for women.
What especially amazed the researches was the fact that the findings cut through such considerations as race,culture and social or economic background.The results suggested that well-being and general happiness are not necessarily dependent on matters usually associated with happiness,for example,by having children,by benefiting from a high income or even by having a stable family background.Indeed,whether a person was divorced,married,rich or poor seemed to make no material difference to his or her overall lifetime sense of well-being.As one researches pointed out, "It happens to men and women,single and married people,rich or poor and those with or without children."
But if people's general happiness is not dependent on factors generally perceived to aid a sense of well-being,then what explains these emotional peaks and troughs? One theory is that as we grow older,we learn to adapt to our individual strengths and weaknesses.As children and young adults,we embark upon our lives full of expectations,ambitions and goals.A lucky few achieve their childhood ambitions but most learn,from bitter experiences,to recognise and if necessary discard any unrealistic expectations.Usually this process of re-evaluation occurs during our middle age, a time when we review and,if appropriate,revise our life goals.In our old age,we may unconsciously accept our own limitations,any setbacks or disappointments,and learn to simply enjoy life for what it is.
Another, somewhat simplistic,theory put forward by the researches is that cheerful,contented people tend to live longer.Does a positive and optimistic view of the world en change happiness and even prolog life? One other explanation is that as people grow older,they witness the death of their peers and as a consequence begin to appreciate life more and count their blessings.
Whatever the cause of the U-shaped curve during our lives,it is clear that something occurs,unconsciously,deep inside us.For the average middle-aged person in the modern world, the dip in mental health and happiness comes on slowly,not suddenly in a single year.But encouraginly,people usually emerge from their low period in their early 50s.As the researchers point out,"By the time you are 70,if you are physical fit,then on average,you are as happy and mentally healthy as a 20-year-old." Clearly,we can all have something to look forward to !