Satisfaction with life starts to drop as early as a person’s late 20s and does not begin to recover until well past 50, says Bert van Landeghem, an economist at Maastricht University in Belgium.
While young adults are carefree and full of hope for the future and the over-50s have come to terms with the trials of life, the research indicates that those in the middle feel weighed down by the demands on them.
The study found “a substantial dip in happiness during the middle of people’s lives is the equivalent to becoming unemployed or losing a family member”. The conclusions come in a study of how people perceive their wellbeing.
Mr van Landeghem, who is 29, will present his research at the Royal Economic Society annual conference at Royal Holloway, the University of London, this week.
While he said happiness did return with age, he warned that older people did not actually recapture the spirit of their youth. They simply learnt to be satisfied with their lot.
“A U-shaped happiness curve does not necessarily imply that a 65 year-old prefers his own life to the life of a 25 year-old,” he said. “Both the 25 year-old and 65 year-old might agree that it is nicer to be 25 than to be 65. But the 65 year-old might nevertheless be more satisfied, as he has learned to be satisfied with what he has.”