Manage episode 325946434 series 2317005
If you're someone who's a decade or two out from your high school graduation, do you ever find yourself thinking that you're just not as happy as you were back then? Of course all the positive-thinking self-talk then kicks in and you think, "Well, maybe I actually wasn't that happy before. I do like my life better now. I like the independence I have. Yeah, yeah, I really like being an adult." Yet, no matter the glass-half-full glow you try to put on things, you can't shake the feeling that your happiness has declined over the years, that at 30, you weren't as happy as you were at 20, and that at 40, you weren't as happy as you were when you were 30.
Well, that feeling is more than a nostalgic hunch, and it's not unique to you. It's actually been born out by hundreds of research papers and studies and shown to be a near-universal experience. My guest today has authored many of those papers. His name is Dr. David Branchflower and he's a labor economist who not only studies the data around money and jobs, but also around human happiness. Today on the show David explains how happiness follows a U-shaped curve, and starts declining around age 18, and continues to fall into midlife, before picking back up again, and David shares the average age at which happiness hits its very lowest point. While it's not entirely clear why the U-shape of happiness occurs, we talk about some possible reasons behind it. And while the U-shape is consistent across the world, it can be lower or higher, and so we discuss how factors like gender, socio-economic and martial status, and having children affect happiness, and whether it's possible to mitigate the dip.
While the fact that it won't be until your mid-60s that you feel as happy as you were at age 18 might seem depressing, David argues that it's comforting to know that the feelings of declining happiness you experience at you approach midlife are normal, and will not only pass one day, but start moving in the other direction.
Resources Related to the Podcast
- "Is Happiness U-Shaped Everywhere?" — one of the main research papers on the happiness curve that David has authored
- David's book Not Working: Where Have All the Good Jobs Gone?
- Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism by Anne Case and Angus Deaton
- Study on great apes having a midlife crisis
- AoM Series: The Seasons of a Man's Life
- AoM Podcast #776: How to Shift Out of the Midlife Malaise
- AoM Article: The Economics of Happiness
Connect With David Branchflower
- David's Faculty Page at Dartmouth (includes links to his research)