Happiness after 30 has become more elusive now than in the 1970’s, a recent study published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science has shown.
Experts at the San Diego State University reviewed more than 40 years’ worth of data, collected between 1972 and 2014, and referring to 1.3 million Americans, aged between 13 and 96. Happiness trends were identified, based on answers given by participants, who described themselves as either “very happy”, “pretty happy” or “not happy”.
Previously, it had been thought that the state of well-being and contentment tends to grow as people age, and that people at the age of 30 are happier than younger individuals.
However, this new study discovered that in fact people under 30 declare themselves happier than prior same-age generations, while blissfulness among their older counterparts has been facing a downward trend.
For example, 30% of those aged between 18 and 29 considered themselves to be “very happy” in the 2010’s, in comparison with 28% of those from the same age range back in the 1970’s.
Similarly, 23% of teenagers declared themselves “very happy”, a larger percentage than 40 years ago, when just 19% of adolescents made this kind of assessment.
On the other hand, those who have reached and surpassed the age of 30 have experienced a decline in cheerfulness and satisfaction, in comparison with people who were in the same age group in the past.
While in the early 1970’s 38% of people in this age group assessed themselves as “very happy”, in recent years just 32% of those older than 30 share this opinion.
Researchers believe this may be because during their adolescence and early youth, people hold overly high hopes regarding the future: they expect finding true love, fulfilling their potential at work, or being more financially affluent.
“With expectations so high, less happiness in adulthood may be the inevitable result”, explained Jean Twenge, psychology professor and study lead author.
By the time they reach 30, people realize that life didn’t pan out the way they had hoped, which leads to frustration, disappointment and resentment.
Although they have more gadgets and their lives are much more comfortable than those of their older counterparts, they still feel a void caused by these scattered ambitions.
As experts speculate, another factor is the heightened sense of individualism with characterizes young people nowadays. Because they are no longer expected to conform to society’s rules, and are much freer to express their personality, they experience a higher degree of contentment.
According to Twenge, the contemporary ideal is being “young and free forever”, while being an older person, with a stable job and a peaceful family life is no longer the most prevalent aspiration.
Today’s society is youth-obsessed, with makes people aged 30 and upwards feel as if they’re past their peak of fulfillment and attractiveness.
Also, while teenagers and younger adults might be comfortable with trends nowadays, which include casual relationships, consumerism and growing dependence on technology, more mature people are less at ease with these changes, and yearn for profound bonds and more stability in their lives.
It must be noted that this is more of a cultural trend, easily identified among men and women likewise. As study authors specify, it can’t be explained by the fact that one generation has simply moved from one age group to another, as the years passed by.
This shift in perception has been encountered among people of all generations, so it seems to be linked to the spirit of the times. As other studies have shown, happiness levels tend to become lower as people enter their forties, and eventually make a recovery during the next decade of life.
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