While it is often said that “life begins at 40”, it seems that unhappiness is not far behind with 47 earning the distinction of age from the maximum misery of middle age.
According to a new study published by the National Economic Research Office, there is a “U-shaped” happiness curve in the course of the life of a person who reaches 47.2 years in the developed world and 48.2 years in development nations
“The trajectory of the curve is valid in countries where the average salary is high and where it is not, and where people tend to live longer and where they do not,” said Dartmouth College professor David Blanchflower, author of the study and former policy maker for the Bank of England, wrote in the newspaper.
To measure the relationship between well-being and age, Blanchflower examined data from 132 countries, including 95 developing and 37 developed countries.
He said he found the same U-shaped pattern when he controlled for gender, education, marital and labor status, the year the data was collected and when he did not apply those controls at all.
“The curve of happiness is everywhere,” he wrote.
Blanchflower said there were about 15 different unhappiness measures he considered for the study, including pain, phobia, despair, loneliness, being under stress and not being able to sleep.
Despite the various external factors in people’s lives, Blanchflower said he was surprised to see a general pattern emerge for respondents in all these different countries.
“It’s true for single people. It’s true for people who have children, who don’t have children. For men, it’s true for women,” he told CTVNews.ca during an interview on Wednesday.
In addition, Blanchflower points to an earlier 2012 study that revealed that there is a similar U-shape between chimpanzees and orangutans. That study evaluated the “joy” of 508 great apes and found a similar fall during their middle age.
“The results imply that the curved form of human well-being is not exclusively human and that, although it can be explained in part by aspects of human life and society, its origins may lie in part in the biology we share with the great apes,” said.
Blanchflower suggested that there may be something “deep in the genes” that contributes to this arc of well-being in a person’s life cycle.
However, the author acknowledged that certain pressures that arise when a person reaches middle age, such as their children move or are in their careers, certainly affects their well-being.
“Eventually, I think what happens is that people’s expectations come true. You decided that you wanted to be the Prime Minister of Canada and that was your ambition when you were 25 … 35 years old, you’re still fighting, 45 you say “OK, I’m going to do something else,” said Blanchflower.
Blanchflower said that the important thing to eliminate from the study is that “life improves” after the peak.
“If you are in a midlife crisis, just understand that many other people are too,” he said. “The other is not being alone. He says that in the data that they share things, they have dinner with their neighbors, talk with their family, spend time with their family, let people come and help them because it will eventually improve.”