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The U Curve of Happiness

When was the happiest time of your life? Was it in your teenage years? Or maybe it was while raising your children. Or is it possibly right now? Perhaps it helps to define happiness as a sense of freedom and/or contentment as opposed to feeling stressed and overburdened. Dr. Laura Carstensen, founding director of the Stanford Center on Longevity discovered that people in their seventies are often happier and more content with life than those in their fifties, forties, or even thirties. Our long-term happiness diagram may look like a U curve.

Most of us would agree that as children our lives were for the most part carefree and fun. Life was so good that we didn’t want to take naps or go to bed early. We were high on the chart of energy and enthusiasm! But as we move through those development years and into our 20’s and 30’s, we face the stumbling blocks of responsibility for relationships, family, and finances. We are constrained by our duties, and there seems to be no time for the fun of our youth. The graph line dips down significantly. By the time we reach our 50’s, we’ve arrived at the bottom of the happiness curve. This is the classic time for a midlife crisis. Without a clear perspective, that life can again return to happiness, new sports cars and younger women are desperate efforts to get on the upside of happiness.

Research is telling us that happiness blooms again in later years. We’ve slain the dragons and reprioritized our lives. We are more confident and courageous and, yes, we’ve developed a sense of humor. We still feel young inside (old is always 15 years older than we are), but we don’t have to bear the burdens of midlife. So, we can go about in our masquerade of wrinkles, smiling at the younger generations with a larger perspective on life. We have arrived again at the top of the U-curve! Join the conversation on Facebook at Just Now Old Enough.

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