*The Happiness Curve: Why Life Gets Better After 50*

I was very happy to have blurbed this new and wonderful book by Jonathan Rauch, here is one adapted excerpt:

Like adolescence, the happiness dip at midlife is developmentally predictable, and can be aggravated by isolation, confusion, and self-defeating thought patterns. Like adolescence, it can lead to crisis, but it is not, in and of itself, a crisis. Rather, like adolescence, it generally leads to a happier stage. In short, although adolescence and the trough of the happiness curve are not at all the same biologically, emotionally, or socially, both transitions are commonplace and nonpathological. But one of them has a supportive social environment, whereas the other has … red sports cars.

You can order the book here.

Comments

I used to get a cold about 4 times per year, but in the seven years since roughly age 52 I've only gotten about one per year, and that only half as bad as the old average one. That was a nice thing to have had happened unexpectedly.

I also found the same. I think this is actually the result of a weakening immune system unfortunately, the cold virus hi-jacks your immune system to spread itself via sneezing and coughing. So your bad colds when you were young ironically indicated good health.

According to a doctor whose brain I am allowed to pick, there are about 100 different variations of the cold virus. Once you have one, you don't get it again. Hence, in the earlier part of your life, you are likely to have more colds, but as you get older, you meet fewer new cold viruses.

Same here, but it's not because you're developing magic powers.

It's because you don't get out as much, and because you do not closely co-mingle with the disease-ridden young any more.

Ever since we started taking zinc regularly no one in my family ever gets colds or flu. It's the one vitamin supplement my pharmacist takes himself.

According to the Amazon summary, this is Rauch's explanation for the happiness dip in midlife: "This isn’t a midlife crisis, though. Rauch reveals that this slump is instead a natural stage of life―and an essential one. By shifting priorities away from competition and toward compassion, it equips you with new tools for wisdom and gratitude to win the third period of life." If that's true, and older people have more compassion and less competition, that won't please Cowen and other economists who have built their models on the assumption that people of all ages are mostly motivated by the same factors. Maybe economists need to consider different motivations of different age groups in building their models. For an aging population such as America's, that might fundamentally alter the study of economics.

Of course, there's always the exception to the rule that with age comes wisdom and gratitude and compassion. The problem for the rest of us is that the exception can have enormous influence on the rest of us. Donald Trump.

Getting old sucks but it beats the Hell out of the alternative.

Once the kids are out of school and the house the finances become easier.

A positive (for me) is the tempering of the sex drive - somewhere Plato briefly wrote about it.

I'm 15 going on 68. One harsh realization is to acknowledge that I look like an old man. That allows me to play the fool at discretion.

My wife and her sister think the bro-in-law is going senile. I think he's playing with them. I always suffered from selective hearing impairment.

Re: "gratitude," Obama told me "You didn't build that." And, ". . . wisdom and compassion" are the reasons I voted for (and will in 2020) voted for President Donald J. Trump. Because, "Being a Christian does not require you to submit to leftist totalitarianism." my man Kurt Schlichter.

Anyhow, the rest of us aren't too smart. For some old guys, "#metoo" translates to "Pound me too."

Trump doesn't care about your vote. However, you could likely drop a couple of hundred thousand dollars into whatever slush fund is still around in 2020, and he would likely be as grateful in the fashion he is known for.

And if you are 68 years old, the feeling of nostalgia concerning the Cowen slush fund must be essentially comforting. So many people forget just how great America was during the Nixon years.

I love you, man.

Trump will get my vote in spite of your sound advice.

I like McCain, too. He followed the sage advice I give to every man - no one listens. Dump your older, crippled wife. Marry a rich, young woman whose father owns all the beer distributorships in Arizona.

I remember Nixon. He (1971) closed the gold desk/took the US off the gold standard. Then, the dollar devalued - luckily I had bought a VW in 1972. Bretton Woods collapsed. The 1973 Arab oil crisis/embargo hurt. Then, Ford imposed wage and price controls (WIN - Whip Inflation Now) and added to a prolonged (1973 - 1974) stock market crash/bear market. More proof that top-down is absolute bullshit.

You're wrong. Unlike his zero predecessor and millions of totalitarian turds, Trump cares about America and about Americans like me.

How happy you are with life after fifty will surely turn, in large measure, on your health and your spouse's. Or has the author got data to refute this conjecture?

Moreover, a dip in happiness in middle age might simply be because of worries about your children, your parents, and your parents-in-law.

Also your career path has solidified, and now you have to be content to whatever level you have achieved, most likely no as high as you had dreamed.

Not sure how happy Cowen may be in his stage of life, but here's an academic study (authored by Austin Frakt, Aaron Carroll, Harold Pollack, and Keith Humphreys) on the rewards of writing for a mass audience (as opposed to, for example, an academic journal): https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/1475-6773.12858

"Like adolescence..."

Is there an actual "dip" in happiness during adolescence? I can believe that 20-somethings are happier than teenagers, but I don't remember now whether I was happier as an elementary school child than as a teenager. I think I liked becoming more physically developed and independent as a teenager. As a teenager, I also expected to become even more developed and independent in full adulthood. I'm not sure that I expect to become wiser in my 50s.

I was very happy to have blurbed this new and wonderful book by Jonathan Rauch, here is one adapted excerpt:

Doesn't this reality follow most happiness levels on vacation. There is a lot of excitement at the beginning and towards the end but in the middle the happiness level is the lowest for most vacations.

Overall, I would say two things of the forties:
1) It is the busiest time of your life
2) a lot of people realize that it wasn't suppose to be like this
3) The great unknown for somebody in their forties is can my kid make it.

During fifties: People accept their accomplishments, get less busy and kids sort of make it.

A bit over a month ago I participated in the conference honoring 92-year old Dick Easterlin on his retirement from U. Southern Cal. He is considered to be the "father of happiness economics." The matter of the age-happiness relation was much discussed, and it is a matter of dispute, with Rauch appearing not be up on the latest on this topic.

For one thing, it is not universally true that happiness bottoms out in midlife. In poorer nations that lack public social security (or alternative guaranteed old age pension systems, however labeled), many of them show happiness curves that simply decline with age from 20 with no upward turn. It looks like having a secure income in one's old age is pretty important for maintaining happiness in old age.

Another competing finding, appearing in a paper I published in the special issue of ROBE honoring Dick, found in several European nations an M-shaped pattern. This showed an increase in happiness from 20 to the late 20s, but then the downward slide into midlife, with that followed by an upturn. But that upturn does not just keep on going on. Rather it peaks around 70, with a mild downturn after then, probably mostly driven by worsening health. This study was based on longitudinal data, which is what is needed as cross section data suffers from the problem that unhappy people tend to die younger than happier ones, so if one simply samples cross-sectionally one finds all these happy survivors hanging on in their mid-80s while their less happy cohort members have left the sample by dying off previously.

I also note a matter rarely mentioned regarding this widely found (in higher income nations anyway) midlife low point of happiness: this coincides roughly with when people have their highest income, rather weakening the simple income-happiness relation, which is complicated and controversial as the ongoing debates over the Easterlin Paradox show, much discussed at that conference as well (Dick had his ultimate defense of his famous paradox in that special issue I edited).

"This showed an increase in happiness from 20 to the late 20s": well of course. Old enough to enjoy more demanding intellectual activities, to enjoy mature success with the girls, to get a career underway (and if you don't have children yet, free to take career gambles), and young enough still to play rugby and cricket. Also scoffing and sluicing doesn't yet pile on the pounds, and you're still robust enough to enjoy cheap travel to interesting places. And self-confident enough to ignore anything fashionable if you don't enjoy it.

Not as obvious as you think. US data has a simply U-shaped curve, down from about 20 to 50 or so, and then up up up and away.

Downwards from 20? You poor sods. What's wrong?

Is this consistent with the common view of the rest of the world that young Americans are usually spoiled brats?

A couple of years ago I read in the Economist that 51 is the year when people is happiest.

I am 52, and I never been happier. I don’t think the 360 cabrio I drive has anything to do with it. It is just a great time.

Phisically fit enough, less slave of hormons, more self-aware.

Massimo,

About 20 years ago when I turned 50, I saw an article saying 50 was tops for happiness. I was pretty happy then, so I thought that was fine. Then since then all these studies saying it is the pits. Easterlin himself privately accepts this old story, but does not argue with it publicly. Part of this has to do with accounting for other effects. It is definitely low holding income and health and employment constant, but those all are usually doing well for people at 50, so on a raw sample they do not look so unhappy. This is a complicated and much debated issue.

Of course, none of this applies to people under a certain age. A 35 year old today will be 45 in 2028 with the health pills and other advances wil be in full swing and aging much less slowly than a 45 year old today. He will also know that he will likely have another 100 years to live in better and better health - not declining health.

This is a fundamental reason many if not most can't accept the health revolution that is unfolding right now: they have had it engrained in their heads since they were twelve years old that they will go to college at 18 or start a job, marry in their late 20s and likely have a child or two, plan for retirement in their 60s and die in their 70s or 80s. All of this new technoloy demolishes the absolutely concrete beliefs they have had for decades and the coming future of the 2020s and 2030s is too jarring to accept.

The other fundamental reason is that it's a total crock of shit.

What is? The human trial results of NR showing a 10 point lower blood pressure if pre-hepertension? That arrteries become less hardened? That healthy 60 to 80 year olds has 8% better balance and could walk 8% further on a 6 minute walking text?

Or is the projections of stem cell therapies available within 3 years that significantly improve hearts with heart failure? The stem cell therapies that improve stroke victims' speech and mobility? Cancer therapies that put blood cancer patients into remition? Or is it CRISPER and artificial organs that are crocks of shit?

Feel free to choose more than one!

NR? Are you talking in some secret code?

NR = Nicotinamide Riboside, which is a concentrated derivative of Vitamin B3. I bring it up as one of many examples countering Tyler's claim in 2010 that there won't be any medical breakthroughs befor 2030. NR looks to be borderline break through and a start up already claims it has enhanced the ability for NR and its cousin NMN to keep NAD levels in cells raised to high level without dropping back to 40% (shown in a human trial conducted in 2016 by Elysium). If curious, look up http://aboutnad.com and http://aboutnad.com/what-is-nad/ http://

For those of us who pay for our own health insurance, life gets better at 65.

You're happier because you have less testosterone. Happiness is moronic, it just means you're not in the fight anymore.

Bought a copy of the book and see that Tyler provided a glowing blurb for it. It also got a rave review in yesterday's WaPo Outlook section that mentioned none of the problems with it. It is well written, and Rauch has talked with or read most of the key players, including Carol Graham, Dick Easterlin, Andew Oswald, Danny Blanchfoower, and John Helliwell, among others. The book does admit that in a few contries the U-curve may not hold, although really only fully mentioning Russia ("don't be Russian" he quotes some observers). He provides figures fro work by Graham and coauthors showing on average there is a U-curve in Latin America and the Caribbean, although it is very flat, something he does not comment on. But in fact it just goes down for some of those nations individually, which he does not recognize. He also conveniently ignores Africa, where the curve is basically flat or slightly going downhill.

Much of the book amounts to anecdotes (people telling how down they were in their forties) or general discussions why older people may get happier ("they are wiser," "they accept their limits," "they are more emotionally balanced," etc.), which may be fine and good and even wise, but runs into at least one serious problem. That is given by a figure in an early chapter showing global results for raw results of asking people life satisfaction on the Cantril ladder 0over age. It shows people claiming to get gradually happier up until just after retirement, with mostly not that much change. The only way one gets the U-curve is to take account of other effects, which for people about 45-50 in high income nations is that they are mostly married, mostly have jobs, and are earning nearly as much as they ever will (some further uptick in 50s). So it is that they should be much happier because they are riding high in those categories, but get dragged down by the midlife crisis effect. Needless to say this finding that overall people are not saying they are unhappy in middle age is ignored and simply shows these personal anecdotes of midlife misery to be just that: anecdotes.

Curiously, Dick Easterlin pointed this out to me personally. While he is a hero early on in this book, with it more or less said (accurately in my view) that he deserves the Nobel Prize, he is never quotes on this age relationship, which is just as well as he at some level does not buy it. I could say quite a bit more on this, but this thread is about to scroll off into oblivion. In any case, I think this book is being way overrated, although it does contain a lot of interesting material.

Oh, and I forgot health, not one where people are better off than at 35, but it just goes downhill after that all the way. One is in not too bad shape in one's late 40s, although of course for those at that age people are not generally claiming to be better off than in the past, in contrast with income, which probably is better than earlier, even if people are frustrated at not making as much as those around them or that they hoped to make.

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