Are Older or Younger People Happier? Men or Women? What Stage of Life is Best?

Happy Life: Happy Marriage Series

Do you dread certain stages of life, like old age or menopause? Are there different stages of life when we tend to be happier in life and marriage?

I’ve shared information about the U-shaped marriage, in which the active parenting years cause a decline in marital satisfaction, but an increase after the kids leave the nest.  Maggie Scarf, author of September Songs: The Good News About Marriage in the Later Years encourages couples to get through the rough patches together so they can enjoy the other peak of their marriage.

But what about overall happiness and wellness—is there a certain time of life where we are more likely to be happy or distraught? For example, I’ve heard some stories about menopause being difficult on husbands and wives. We’ve also all heard stories midlife crises caused by the terrible distress of men in their 40s. Some couples spend a solid decade worrying about these impending events.

While there are certainly anecdotes that show these are real issues for some people, David Myers, PhD, says people of all ages report similar feelings of wellbeing. That includes people in middle and old age. Truthfully, he reports in his book The Pursuit of Happiness, more women view the post-menopausal and empty-nest period as a time of freedom and enjoyment of life than a time of sadness and depression. Surveys of empty nester women report greater happiness and greater enjoyment in their marriages. They even talk of a “post-launch honeymoon”. This is good news for all those dreading that time of life.

Regarding cases of midlife crises, two studies involving nearly 10,000 men and women showed “not the slightest evidence” that distress peaks anywhere in the midlife age range. Perhaps we just hear stories of things people do—buying an expensive car or going off with a younger woman—and attribute the decision to reaching a certain age. Apparently research isn’t very supportive of this conclusion. Note, the research is a bit dated, but it was done over a long period of time.

Researchers did find some age-related differences in wellbeing. They found that (not surprisingly) teens have frequent ups and downs in their emotions, even within the same hour. When they are down, everyone and everything around them seems bleak. When they’re up, even their parents become admirable. “Adult moods are less extreme but far more enduring,” says Myers. And older adults are more calm, less easily rattled, and generally have less stress and fewer demands. This means older adults may be more content, and just as happy, as their middle-aged counterparts even though health concerns may become more common. Surveys in various countries show older people report just as much happiness and satisfaction as younger people.

Divorces occur more frequently with younger adults than older adults. By middle and older ages, couples tend to not focus on changing their partner or fighting so much over control in the relationship. They can often be more content and enjoy one another.

One major predictor of happiness is health and fitness. Not surprisingly, chronic pain or ill health undermines our wellbeing. However, good health doesn’t guarantee happiness any more than a full bank account does.

Studies show those who learn how to slow down, relax, smile more, and laugh more enjoy better quality of life. (Couples who enjoy a great sense of humor have a leg up here.) Of course, there are all those recommendations about eating well and exercising, but talking about laughing more sounds a lot more fun. When will we find a study that shows eating crème brulee once a week leads to a long, happy life? In truth, the book explains exercise has been shown to dramatically improve depression. Even a short walk raises energy levels and lowers tension. Aerobic exercise is quite effective at elevating mood.

As far as whether men or women enjoy greater wellbeing, multiple studies show gender accounts for less than 1 percent of people’s differing wellbeing. Men and women are equally likely to report being “very happy” and “satisfied or very satisfied” with life. However, women are much more likely to suffer from depression. Women are more likely to feel anxiety as well as joy. Our gender feels the highs and lows more strongly, particularly in relationships. (Our husbands might have noticed we tend to be more emotional.) We are also the more empathetic gender. On the other hand, men are more likely to suffer from alcohol addictions and to commit suicide.

Do these insights dispel any myths you had about happiness as it relates to age or gender?  Do you have any guesses regarding whether education or race plays a major part in happiness levels? Is there a phase of life that you dread?

Interesting Links:
One way you might improve your energy level, attitude and happiness is to get more sleep. Concert violinists say the only thing that improves their performance more than practice is getting adequate sleep. This Huffington Post article convinces us that it’s more important than food.

The always educational Michele Weiner-Davis teaches us How to Make Your Spouse Want to Change.

The always super-entertaining Alisa Bowman teaches us that we don’t always have to follow someone else’s marriage recipe in her FaceBook post: What Lentil Soup Taught Me About Marriage.

Thanks so much to Jennifer Gill Rosier for naming this blog as one of her 10 Favorite Marriage Blogs at Jen’s Love Lessons. Read about the other nine!

Interesting new fact: 1 out of 8 couples married in the U.S. met using social media!

Photo credit: ©ril/PhotoXpress.com

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4 responses to “Are Older or Younger People Happier? Men or Women? What Stage of Life is Best?

  1. Pingback: Beat Adult Dyslexia | tset

  2. It’s so sad that you report that people spend whole decades dreading certain changes in their lives.

    That’s ten whole years wasted on fear. How much joy and growth did they miss while fear was holding them captive?

    To get the most out of life, we need to enjoy THIS moment – it’s all we ever have. Stuff is always going to happen irrespective of age, gender, social status.
    Unlock the door to the fear prison and live NOW.

    Live Life Happy!

  3. 59. Thank you for another informative blog. Where else could I get that type of info written in such an ideal way? I’ve a project that I am just now working on, and I’ve been on the look out for such information.

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