60-Second Science

Life's U-Shaped Path of Happiness

A cross-cultural study including 74 countries finds that most people do indeed have a midlife crisis--but most also find ways to get happy again. Adam Hinterthuer reports.

Hitting your mid forties? Chances are you’re feeling down. But don’t hang your head, you’re just at the bottom of life’s ‘U’ shaped path of happiness. You might not see it from here, but things are looking up. A study in the journal Social Science and Medicine says mid-life malaise is part of being human. Offering proof that misery loves company, researchers found that millions of people from 74 different countries followed similar life paths. They moved from youthful happiness toward mid-life depressions, then back to happiness in their golden years. Earlier studies suggested psychological wellbeing was consistent throughout life. But this report says, from Azerbaijan to Zimbabwe, there’s no getting around that mid-life crisis.

Regardless of cultural differences, financial success or marital status, a period of depression settles over our forties. But our late fifties, we cheer back up. Researchers speculate that, as we get older, unrealistic expectations are tempered by reality. In other words, we learn to expect less from life.  But, they say, a happier possibility is that we just get better at counting our blessings.

—Adam Hinterthuer

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