Happiness Smackdown!


Over at Slate, Joel Waldfogel reads a new study and concludes that Happiness is… not being middle-aged:

Blanchflower and Oswald found that for both men and women in the United States and throughout Europe, happiness starts off relatively high in early adulthood, then falls, bottoming out on average around age 45, and then rises after that year and on into old age…

So, why does happiness start strong, dip with middle age, and then revive among the elderly? The authors—they're economists, after all—can do little more than speculate about the causes of the midlife happiness crisis. They propose that people come to understand their strengths and weaknesses and "in mid-life quell the infeasible aspirations of their youth."

Mid-lifers hate their lives even more than the rest of us, then, and early Gen Xers are rapidly approaching rock bottom. Expect your adultescent friends to become sad sack depressives any day now. Except that, as renowned Happinessologist Will Wilkinson points out on his Happiness Blog, the posited "midlife happiness crisis" is based on a misreading of the research:

But that's not what the paper is about. It is about the effect of age, per se, on happiness. That is to say, they're filtering out various correlates of age, like wealth and health, which generally have large effects on life-satisfaction. So this is a study of how happy people are with their age at various ages. The paper, as far as I understand it, says that people are least happy with their age at middle age. It does not say that people are least happy at middle age. Sadly, this completely ruins Waldfogel's Slate piece.

Wilkinson imparts more happiness wisdom in the pages of Reason here.