Your happiness explained in plumbing terms 27



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When I embarked upon middle age and all the things that come with it – the kids, the husband, the career ambitions, the untrainable pets and interminable housework – my mother said to me, “Welcome to the most hectic period of your life.”

What I realise now is that she was actually saying, “Welcome to the slippery slide into the most challenging and unhappy part of your life. Good luck.”

Because, in happiness terms, middle age is a valley of darkness, and my mother, spritely, fit, adored by grandchildren and not giving a hoot what anyone thought of her, was standing on the hill at the other side, and the only way for her was up.

Believe it or not, this little tale has a standing in economic research, and it is a phenomenon that occurs all around the world, regardless of race, religion, wealth or situation.

It’s known as the “U-bend of life”.

Andrew Oswald, professor of economics at Warwick Business School, says the U-bend was first observed in the early 1990s. But it wasn’t until the science of happiness became popular a decade later that the theory gained any traction.

ubend economist

Generally speaking, we all start off adulthood reasonably happy. Studies have shown that most people in their 20s and early 30s are relatively carefree and upbeat. Come the middle ages, however, and things take a sharp turn south. Happiness levels bottom out for a while, often leading to that well-known crisis point.

At some point, whether you’re in Japan, Denmark, Bhutan or Bahrain, research has shown that most people lift themselves out of the doldrums and their happiness levels start to climb.

In other words, If you were plot people’s happiness on a graph, the line would create a shape that looks a little like the U-bend under your sink (only less clogged with hair, one would hope).

Like a rat up a drainpipe

The average global age people’s happiness bottoms out is 46 according to international research by David Blanchflower, professor of economics at Dartmouth College, with discontent lasting the longest for Ukrainians, who are miserable until they are 62, and those perky Swiss hitting their nadir at 35.

For most of us, our 40s and early 50s are our unhappiest years, and then, magically, things get better.

The coolest thing about this U-bend theory is that it applies to people all over to world, in very different cultures. Americans and Zimbabweans have far different life experiences, yet both are happier from the mid-50s.

Some theories on the unhappiness of middle age include the scourge of teenage children or the stress of ageing parents. But who cares? Those days are over!

And don’t think older people are happier because they finally have their cash all to themselves, when researchers strip away the money factor, the U-bend still applies, same goes for taking employment status and children or grandchildren out of the equation.

So the growing happiness that follows middle-aged misery must be the result not of external circumstances but of internal changes.

Studies have shown that people behave differently as they age. We can all think of someone who has “mellowed out as they got older”, right?

Older people have fewer rows and come up with better solutions to conflict. They are better at controlling their emotions, better at accepting misfortune and less prone to anger.

Is this because we know which battles are worth fighting? Or that we recognise that life really is too short to waste our energies on these negatives? Is it the levelling effect of seeing our friends around us grow sick, old, or pass away?

Maybe we just come to accept our strengths and weaknesses, and give up on certain dreams, only to realise that chasing them was no fun.

The ageing population is often seen as a burden on the economy and a problem to be solved. The U-bend argues for a more positive view of the matter. As the Economist says, “The greyer the world gets, the brighter it becomes!”

Do you feel happier now than you did during your 40s and 50s? What makes you happy right now? 

Starts at 60 Writers

The Starts at 60 writers team seek out interesting topics and write them especially for you.

  1. I’m not sure it gets better after 55. I have an aging mother who is suffering severe symptoms of dementia and younger sisters who live closer but won’t help. I have adult children who have no problem asking me for help but who can find time to run around after everyone else but can’t find 1 hour to help me with anything. And I live 2500klms from my mum but I have to head up to her place this week because she is having problems.
    I feel that I am more stressed now then ever but at 65 I find it harder and harder to cope.
    So I’m off on a 2500klm drive next week to sort things out and once done I have to make the 2500klm drive back home.
    Meanwhile I have to find the funds to have my dog boarded and hope that my daughter will find five minutes every couple of days to check my mail and my house whike I’m away.
    10 years ago I would have coped with this easily. Even 5 years ago, no problem. But my body and mind is telling me that I am no longer capable of taking it in my stride.
    Yes, I am definitely more stressed now than I was at 55.

    12 REPLY
    • Oh , that all sounds awful, Ruth! My life sounds much less stressful than yours. However I can sympathise with the problem of adult children being reluctant to help, mine are a bit like that too.

    • I understand where you are coming from Ruth. Life does not improve after 55 for sure…..well it may for some but not for the majority, so happiness is not on the agenda! So many older people have families who don’t care. Have a safe trip Ruth. Hope you manage to get your mum sorted out. Xx

    • So sorry Ruth and yes I agree, this seem more difficult for me too as a I age, arthritis is taking it toll on me, I am not as capable as I once was, that is a hard to realise and deal with

    • So agree with this, I have my son on Facebook, he just lives over the hill from me, and I hardly see him, so I can relate to what your saying. The other day there is a picture of him digging in fence posts for his mother in law on his Facebook wall. Now while I don’t begrudge him helping anyone, it seems to be too difficult for him to pick up the phone and ring me. My son is an office worker, he is a manager, so am hoping the fence will fall down. I most certainly could not rely on him to get the mail Ruth nor would I ask.. big hugs sweetie

    • Libbi we have the same problem…..and he’s a lawyer and a Liberal. Lol. He remarried and moved to the North Shore, Sydney. Not seen him for over a year despite trying to tee up family functions. Hope that fence falls down!! Titter titter.

    • I feel your pain Ruth, in so many areas. Private message me if you want/need to talk. Have a safe trip and keep smiling dear lady. Xx

    • A friend of mine hardly ever heard from her son and she hardly ever spoke about him. Now that she has unexpectedly received over a million dollar inheritance he has suddenly become very attentive to her.

    • Libbi Elliot
      I have been waiting months for them to paint my verandah. It is 2mtrs by 3 mtrs. But they are busy looking after the inlaws cows and horses and going to tractor sales etc. Then they tell me they are going to Darwin for 5 days to celebrate her step mothers birthday. She doesn’t even like her step mother. This paint job was supposed to be my birthday present. So they can find 5 days to go to Darwin but can’t find 1 hour to help me. I
      Yesterday I paid a local handyman to do the job. So at least it’s done.
      I just give up in the end.
      And to top it off I get spied on, on FB and get abused for telling people these things.
      I have to be so careful what I say because I will get denied access to my grand daughter if I say too much.
      It’s a no win situation when we get to this age.

  2. My mother is incredibly fashionable after she lost 24 pounds using the diet that website here FATXU .COM

  3. E-w-w! Isn’t that where all the yukky stuff is when it gets blocked? Then that quote could be correct!!!!!!!!

  4. definitely learn to just accept what happens that you can’t change and to enjoy what you have. Happiness is a myth – contentment is much better, it is what everyone is seeking.

  5. Yes Ruth I understand where you are coming from. Travel safe. I hope all turns out well. Enjoy your Mum while you can.

  6. I feel your pain Ruth. In lots of areas. Private message me if you want/need to talk. Safe journey and keep safe. Xxxooo

  7. I wish, I was back in my 40 & 50s, but I am also happy that I made it to 72 & healthy, each & every day from here on is a bonus.

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