Happiness, work and aging

by Ryan Streeter on December 8, 2014. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

We all want to be happy, don’t we? Well, if you’re dissatisfied, frustrated or downright miserable, cheer up. There’s apparently a cure for you. Even better, it will materialize automatically. Just sit and wait; the very anticipation of its arrival might improve your spirits. The remedy: getting older.

Robert Samuelson writes in the Post today about the universal life cycle: we’re happier when younger, unhappiest in middle age, and then get happy again as we get older despite the fact that aging should – one would think – make you unhappy.

Carol Graham at Brookings was always very good on this topic when I got to know her while working on the Prosperity Index at Legatum Institute, and Samuelson cites her work showing that a majority of countries demonstrate this U-shaped “happiness curve.

This will be an interesting body of research to track over the coming generation as the population skews older like this:

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Will a greater proportion of “happy elders” matter for societies? I suppose that depends on what types of economic and social goods happy people produce.

Carol has some recent work on this in fact here.