How Does Happiness Change Through Life?

Maybe you’ll never again be as happy as you are right now. Or maybe you’ll continue to get happier and happier as you get older.

Clearly, the trajectory happiness takes is different from individual to individual. Some people might experience their thirties as the best time of their lives while others may not hit their stride until their fifties. And surely there are plenty of people who are more or less equally happy or unhappy across most of their lives.

On average, however, there are some patterns in which years tend to correspond to higher and lower happiness. For example, take a study that tracked two groups of people in Canada over time: one from the ages of 18-43 and one from 23-37.

The study found that as people graduated high school and college and entered into adulthood, they started to become happier overall. In fact, people tended to become happier over time into their thirties. Life really does get better after high school!

In the cohort that researchers tracked until the age of 43, people had started to experience a slight decline in happiness by the time they were into their forties. Not enough to offset the gains of their twenties and thirties though.

Certain life events are naturally correlated with happiness. In particular, a study of people in Germany and the UK found that people tended to become happier as they had kids – only for the first two kids though! So having as many children as possible isn’t necessarily the key to happiness, but having one or two might help. This effect was especially strong for people who had children later or were more educated when they had children.

In the end, happiness is partly a matter of the individual. What makes one person happy isn’t necessarily good for the next person. But the good news is that, on average, people tend to find what makes them happy over time – younger does not necessarily equal happier.

Image: Flickr/Duncan Rawlinson