Perhaps you read the “Economist” article about people being happier as they get older. It’s worth a read. Here are a couple of excerpts to give you the general idea:
Ask a bunch of 30-year-olds and another of 70-year-olds (as Peter Ubel, of the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University, did with two colleagues, Heather Lacey and Dylan Smith, in 2006) which group they think is likely to be happier, and both lots point to the 30-year-olds. Ask them to rate their own well-being, and the 70-year-olds are the happier bunch.
Apparently economists have noticed a U-bend in happiness.
The U-bend shows up in studies not just of global well-being but also of hedonic or emotional well-being. One paper, published this year by Arthur Stone, Joseph Schwartz and Joan Broderick of Stony Brook University, and Angus Deaton of Princeton, breaks well-being down into positive and negative feelings and looks at how the experience of those emotions varies through life. Enjoyment and happiness dip in middle age, then pick up; stress rises during the early 20s, then falls sharply; worry peaks in middle age, and falls sharply thereafter; anger declines throughout life; sadness rises slightly in middle age, and falls thereafter.
The author speculates that people in their forties often have adolescent children and that’s usually taxing. Tell me about it! And often you’re older than that and have teen-agers around. But, if you don’t want to put it entirely on the kids, there are other circumstances. One of them is trying to do well in your career and activities outside of that. The more irons you have in the fire, the more chances there are that things are going to go wrong. Of course, there’s also the possibility of having more go well. Still, you’re juggling. And, that’s demanding.
Then there is the explanation offered that as people age they often adjust in terms of ambition. We cease to worry so much about being attractive, slender and successful. Lowering our expectations just ends up making us happier after we get past the struggle to accept that we’re aging. I’m not sure when that kicks in. Sometimes I hope it’ll be soon. It’s not easy to lower expectations of yourself if you’ve kept them pretty high or your family and career demands have done so for you.
Let me throw into this mix the importance of having relationships that aren’t confrontative. And that brings us back to communication. If you know how to manage conversations, to keep yourself from feeling that you lost in one conversation after another, you’re bound to be happier. If you know what to say when, the chances of warding off too much stress are increased — even with teenagers!
Most of my books are about how to take back some control. Researchers have also found that most of us think we have more control over our lives than we actually do. But, I figure, whatever amount we do have might as well be managed well. To me that means knowing how to talk to the people in your life who mean the most. Maybe that’s doctors at some period of time. At others, it may be a new boss or someone in our personal lives. The same communication principles apply. If you stay out of patterns that take conversations off onto the wrong track and have a repertoire of responses to a variety of situations, there’s a good chance that you’re going to be happier than people who don’t.
That’s worth thinking about for the New Year — learning to communicate so that happiness becomes a more regular state of mind. As one of my professors once said to me, “You can be pushed and pulled through life, or you can do most of the pushing and pulling.” It was good advice!