Why are we happier at 50 than 40?

Experts often argue about what makes people get happier once they pass middle age, but the answer is actually quite simple. We give up worrying about things that don’t matter.

We can be happy as children, until adolescence, and then we can suffer years of extreme self-consciousness. Teens and young adults care deeply about what their peers think and it can become a torment.

Then, those child-rearing years may be rewarding, but they are so hard. The emotional and physical demands of parenthood are almost overwhelming on their own, but then there are jobs and crushing mortgages.

Once you hit middle age, you may well be trying to harness wayward teenagers of your own, while caring for ageing relatives and still holding down your job. And that crushing mortgage may still be there.

No surprise, then, that researchers keep writing new reports showing that our happiness levels throughout life tend to be U-shaped - starting high as children, plunging to our lowest in our 40s and then rising to a peak at about the age of 65 to 79 years.

That may be the sort of relief you feel when you stop banging your head against a wall.

A survey of almost 8,000 Australians aged 50+ in March 2016 by MevCorp on behalf of WYZA®, also finds that optimism about the future peaks among people in their 60s (and they are more likely to feel younger than their age than 50 somethings).

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Mortgages, teenage children, and ailing parents leave many 40-year-olds exhausted

As many as 44 per cent and men and 46 per cent of women say they are optimistic, while only 30 per cent of men and 26 per cent of women say they are “nostalgic about the past”.

Of course, this is not the case for every individual. Ill health and personal tragedy can pull you down at any age (and happiness dips again in the early 80s). However, in general terms, based off surveys across hundreds of thousands of people in the developed world, we get happier as we age.

Aside from leaving behind the cares of earlier years, another piece of research finds an extra reason for happiness — we become more trusting with age.

According to professor of social policy at Northwestern, Claudia Haase, increased trust results in greater levels of well-being.

"Trust may benefit well-being because a sense of trust in other people allows us to derive support, comfort and pleasure from our social relationships," Haase said recently.

Founding Director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, Professor Laura Carstensen, says the increase in happiness is known as the “paradox of ageing”.

“After all ageing is not a piece of cake,” she told an audience at a TedEx Women event, which has been viewed on the website more than one million times.

In the 20th century we added an unprecedented number of years to our lifespans, but is the quality of life as good? Surprisingly, yes! Psychologist Laura Carstensen shows research that demonstrates that as people get older they become happier, more content, and have a more positive outlook on the world. Watch the TED Talk below and find out why older people are happier:


Carstensen says older people are more likely to experience mixed emotions (happiness and sadness at the same time, for instance), they engage with sadness more comfortably and are better at solving “hotly-charged” conflicts and debates.

Older people can view injustice with compassion, rather than despair and tend to focus on the positive.

“When we recognise we don’t have all the time in the world, we see our priorities most clearly. We take less notice of trivial matters, we savour life, we are more appreciative, more open to reconciliation, we invest in more emotionally important part of life and life gets better.

“So we are happier, day to day,” she says.

However, that doesn’t mean that older people stop caring. “… that same shift in perspective lead us to have less tolerance than ever for injustice,” says Carstensen.

Is this an issue you or your parents are dealing with? We want to hear from you. Email us at admin@wyza.com.au.

Watch out for a series of six fascinating articles Fiona Smith is writing for us based on the latest information discovered about the 50+ age group in March 2016 by MevCorp on behalf of WYZA®.

Read more from Fiona:

Are you happier now than you were a decade ago? We want to know why or why not. Tell us below!