The U Curve of Happiness

For anyone feeling a sense of apprehension about retirement, here’s some good news. According to several studies[1], unhappiness reaches its low point in mid-life. The good news is that as we enter our 50s, happiness starts to rise. By the time we hit our 60s, it’s quite possible that we’ve never been happier!  Why is this?

One explanation is that as we progress through the work world, work takes up more and more of our time (and is also limited by other factors such as raising a family). Financial pressures create additional problems. Basically we’re stressed out big time. But by the time we reach our 50s, things start improving. Our careers are established, we’re more financially secure and the kids have left (hopefully). We feel a sense of achievement in part because we made it through tough times. We find that we have more time and resources to enjoy life.

Another explanation is that we enter young adulthood feeling as if we can achieve anything. When we reach middle-age we discover that many of our dreams will not come true – that time has passed us by. We may be out of career options. We might have devoted most of our time to others. Life wasn’t supposed to turn out this way. However, given time to reflect, wisdom replaces disappointment. We see our accomplishments in a broader, more positive context. We accept ourselves for who we are. We’re buoyed to discover that we don’t have to rely on others for our happiness.

Without a doubt retirement is filled with challenges and uncertainty. But knowing that you’re entering a time of life when happiness is on an upward trajectory can help turn anxiety into anticipation and excitement. Retirement presents a great opportunity to enjoy life. The roots of happiness are within us. How they grow is up to you (u)!

[1] Is well-being U-shaped over the life-cycle? By David Blanchflower and Andrew Oswald

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