Happiness Drops At Middle Age, But Only If You Live In The West

As we hit middle age, our happiness levels go seriously downhill - but it may have more to do with the country we live in than the onset of wrinkles and pot bellies.

Happiness nose dives when people in Western countries like the US and UK hit 45 years old, according to world survey data published in the Lancet.

The same decline in happiness does not occur in people in developing countries.

The study - conducted by researchers from Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Stony Brook University and University College London - examined how residents of different regions across the world experience varying life-satisfaction levels and emotions as they age.

The good news is that although life-satisfaction dips around middle age for people in high-income, English-speaking countries, it rises again in old age, creating a U-shaped pattern of happiness.

In Africa life-satisfaction is low throughout. In the former Soviet Union and Eastern European countries, older residents reported very low rankings of life satisfaction compared with younger residents in those regions.

Participants answered questions regarding their wellbeing in three key categories:

  • Evaluate - how satisfied are you with your life?
  • Hedonic - what emotions and feelings do you experience?
  • Eudemonic - how do you view your purpose in life?

"Economic theory can predict a dip in well-being among the middle age in high-income, English-speaking countries," said co-author Angus Deaton, the Dwight D. Eisenhower Professor of Economics and International Affairs at the Wilson School.

"What is interesting is that this pattern is not universal. Other regions, like the former Soviet Union, have been affected by the collapse of communism and other systems. Such events have affected the elderly who have lost a system that, however imperfect, gave meaning to their lives, and, in some cases, their pensions and health care."

The researchers used data from the Gallup World Poll, covering more than 98% of the world's population in their evaluations.

Deaton added: "Our findings suggest that health care systems should be concerned not only with illness and disability among the elderly but their psychological states as well."

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