The Happiness U-Curve

Maybe you’ve never heard of The Happiness U-Curve.

I know I hadn’t until a few month’s ago. The Happiness U-Curve refers to the dip in happiness most people experience in midlife—from their late 30s and early 40s, and into their 50s.

Picture a bell curve (like from high school) but turn it upside down.

A giant U, or ironically, a giant smile. Now put a great big X at the bottom of that U and that X is where most of us are at midlife. The bottom of the curve.

There have been quite a few happiness studies that indicate happiness levels throughout life follow the shape of a U-curve. According to these studies, happiness rises through our teens and into our early 20s. It then begins dipping downward throughout our later 20s and into our early 30s. It finally hits bottom when we enter our 40s and 50s. After that, it begins rising again, and rises steadily as we get older.

Well now doesn’t that explain a lot!

When we hit midlife, we’re at our lowest in terms of happiness. Perhaps that’s why we begin looking around for things to satisfy us… to increase our happiness. The proverbial midlife crisis, which stereotypically leads to expensive sports cars and affairs, may actually be driven by the pursuit of happiness. While most of us may not relate to that extreme, many of us probably can relate to feeling unsettled, unsatisfied, and in search of something to fill a void that’s shown up in our life.

There are several theories about why happiness dips in midlife.

One is that the late 30s to early 50s are probably our most crowded years. We’re working hard in our careers, getting married, raising kids, taking on mortgages, and potentially caring for aging parents. All of these responsibilities can cause stress and the sense there are not enough hours in the day to get it all done. We can feel like we’re always just trying to keep up and it can be downright exhausting.

For some, lives may start to fall apart during this stage.

Career dissatisfaction, parenting problem teenagers or adjusting to an empty nest, dealing with divorce, health issues, or aging parents can all generate stress and unhappiness. We’re no longer wide-eyed kids embarking on an exciting life with anticipation. We’re living the life we created and we may or may not be happy with where we’ve ended up.

It’s a time of reflection and re-evaluation.

When we are able to use this time as an opportunity to make changes in our lives and find more meaning, or even just accept where we are and learn to be grateful, it can make all the difference in the world. It can lead us back up the U-Curve to greater happiness.

That’s exactly what the research found.

Levels of contentment start heading upward again in our 50s and by the time we hit our 60s most people report they are the happiest they’ve ever been.

If you find yourself wallowing at the bottom of the U Curve, you’re not alone.

It’s a verifiable phenomenon based on data from a half a million Americans and Europeans. You can also rest assured it’s only temporary. And, you can view it as an opportunity to make changes in your attitude, or your life, that will have you heading back up the U-Curve and experiencing higher levels of happiness than ever before.

If nothing else, remember the adage, “this too shall pass” because according to the research, it will!

About Debbie

Debbie worked in marketing for 32 years and ran a successful coaching and consulting business for 19. Now she helps people find greater happiness and success by learning how to Follow Inspiration.

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