Happiness Grows With Age

A whole body of research exists about Americans’ well-being at different stages of their adult lives. Generally, people report they are very satisfied with their lives in their 20s, less so in their 50s, and then it goes back up to twenty-somethings level in 80-year-olds.

Arthur Stone, distinguished professor and vice chairman of psychiatry and behavioral science at Stony Brook University, says that the surveys behind these data ask very broad questions and it’s not always clear what’s behind people’s answers.

Stone tried a different approach. In collaboration with a Gallup survey, he asked people how they felt yesterday, with regard to stress, worry, happiness. The questions were simple and only asked about the previous day, avoiding problems posed by poor recall.

Obviously, any one day might not reflect the norm of someone’s satisfaction with life. But if you ask enough people, he says, the effects of off days will be minimized. Stone’s questions were posed to 340,000 people in 2008.

His results showed a different pattern than had been found previously. For example, 50% of people in their 20s reported being stressed, compared to only 18% of those in their 80s. Stone found a similar life-long decline in worry as well.

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Stone says his survey methodology should be useful for policy makers and health care assessors. “We’re suggesting that looking at even a small slice of daily life experience is one way to understand how different medical treatments or policies affect people’s well-being,” he says.

 

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