Ups And Downs

In today’s mail our old friend Jess Kaplan has sent along a link to some breaking news about happiness.

Apparently, according to a recent study by an international team of researchers, we are least happy in middle age:

The British and U.S. researchers found that happiness for people ranging from Albania to Zimbabwe follows a U-shaped curve where life begins cheerful before turning tough during middle age and then returning to the joys of youth in the golden years.

I can’t say I’m surprised by this result, which agrees well with my own experience. (And in passing I must compliment the breadth of coverage here; as far as I know this is the first such study to span the entire alphabet.)

The confident ardor of youth, with its delusions of immortality and of all things being possible, has usually taken many a knock by the time one gets into one’s forties. In prospect we imagined for ourselves a history-making career, a storybook romance, and grand adventure, but what we didn’t realize as striplings is that histories and storybooks and tales of adventure leave a great deal out. Most of life — even of a very enviable life — is a lot of getting up in the morning, working hard for scant reward, deferring gratification, and making do. There are an awful lot of flat tires, common colds, sprained ankles, traffic tickets, sinus headaches, utility bills, heat waves, pointless arguments, snoring spouses, and crying babies that just don’t show up on our youthful radar, and we are not adequately warned that there will be garbage to take out, snow to shovel, cavities to fill, dishes to do, reading glasses to find, customers to satisfy, superiors to obey, forms to fill out, weight to lose, insurance to buy, politicians to elect, and friends to bury.

This is a far cry from what we had imagined, and for most of us there also comes a dark awareness, in early middle age, that the chance to be a rock star or an astronaut or to pitch for the Yankees has passed, and that whatever it is we have been doing, we are probably just going to be doing a lot more of it. But if we have managed not to topple in the early going — if we have been lucky or sensible enough not to present too broad a target — we gradually come to learn that by just showing up each day and doing what we can, for years and years and years, we can make perfectly decent, normal lives for ourselves. And if we can manage that, then there comes another realization, somewhat later on: that to have created such lives, when so many around us have been knocked down or shorn away, is itself quite a remarkable accomplishment — a triumph, really — and all the more so because it’s real. And that, as it turns out, can make us quite happy indeed, if we let it.

You can find the story here.

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  1. bighominid says

    I can vouch for the abundance of traffic tickets.


    PS: This may be a double post. I thought I’d posted this earlier, but I was flipping back and forth among several windows and might have hallucinated my having hit the “submit comment” button.

    Posted January 30, 2008 at 1:14 am | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    Ah yes, hallucinations. Don’t you hate ’em? Another thing they didn’t warn us about.

    Posted January 30, 2008 at 10:20 am | Permalink
  3. Jesse Kaplan says

    Now that you mention it, I think I might be able to descry a smidgeon of disappointment off in the distance, as it were, beyond progressively ascending peaks, shrouded in a sparkly haze illuminated by something that could be birthday candles… or maybe a forest fire.

    Posted January 30, 2008 at 11:38 am | Permalink
  4. Malcolm says

    No need to strain your eyes.

    Posted January 30, 2008 at 11:13 pm | Permalink