In the 1970’s an economist at the University of Pennsylvania began compiling survey results on happiness. The results became the Easterlin paradox, named after the man in question, Richard Easterlin, the founder of what became known as Happiness Economics.
Easterlin discovered that after a certain point , an increase in wealth did not increase happiness. In the 1990s, building on that, economists Blanchflower and Oswald developed the happiness U-curve.
They discovered that there is a relationship between age and happiness. It differs from country to country but essentially does show happiness declines with age, bottoming out in the late 40s before climbing back up again.
Obviously this is influenced by life events, but get this, studies have indicated that this curve still exists separately from the influences of these events. They even noticed it in studying other primates in the equivalent of their “midlife”. It’s an inside job.
The jury is still out on why it bottoms out in midlife, but evidence seems to lean towards a perception of unrealised goals , while later in life people accept more realistic expectations for themselves and don’t feel the need to strive. There are a lot of pressures on people in midlife, they have to juggle career, marriage, children. As we grow older, it becomes more about connection rather than competition.
The problem is when people blame their unhappiness on the wrong things and this is when things go pear shaped and people have a midlife crisis. They’re trying to regain happiness in the wrong places.
The takeaway then is this, if you’re feeling in a midlife slump, it might be worth taking a look at what you are demanding of yourself at this time in your life. Is it too much and should you be more realistic in what you’re trying to achieve?
Where are you on the U curve?
Are the things in your life that you’re doing giving you fulfilment?”