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Happiness: Some Now, More Later

Studies show that people are happiest in their 70s.

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Everyone wants to be happy. There are some of us who are naturally happy, while there are others who have to regularly work at their happiness.

Contrary to popular opinion, research suggests that our teen years are not when we are happiest. In fact, studies now show that our best years are our golden years—and, unfortunately, we’ll go through a period of lows to get there.

If you think back on them, the teen years can be pretty tumultuous: popularity contests, growth spurts, growing responsibility, first jobs, etc. We’re told the world is at our fingertips, but that can be a lot of pressure to handle when you don’t have the life experience that someone older has.

Some people welcomed the changes that came through the teen years, but some didn’t and began acting out, soon developing into “the bad crowd.” In essence, those bad kids aren’t bad kids—they’re just not as happy as their well-behaving counterparts.

A new study from the University of California, Davis suggests that the happier teens are less likely to commit crimes or use drugs. Even minor depression, researchers found, is enough to increase a kid’s likelihood to act out, whether criminally or through drug use. 

The theory behind this connection is that happier kids—who typically have stronger social bonds, positive self-image, and other skills—make their decisions “informed by positive emotions.” 

So after that everything’s sugar-coated gold, right? Nope.

Any of us between our teens and senior years know that there are plenty of challenges, pitfalls, and tedious work involved in getting through nearly every day. Sometimes we’re lost in our search for happiness and stress can overpower our daily lives. Kids, careers, friends, and stress can each take their toll. These, and other life challenges, all have their ups and downs, triumphs and spoils, and everything else that’s supposed to pay off, but if we don’t take time to stop and inventory what we’ve done, what we are doing, and what we plan on doing, we’ll miss it.

Usually, it isn’t until later in our lives that we take the time to reflect and recognize what has mattered, what was unimportant, and what we should have let slide.

One study published in Social Science and Medicine in 2006, suggests that happiness over our lives, if charted on a graph, forms a “U” shape: we’re born happy little babies and reach that same happiness before we die. That point in the middle, on average, is a sinking middle point until we climb back up the happiness ladder. A 2010 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the U.S.A. and a 2010 Stanford University study confirmed the 2006 findings.

Somewhere in the seventh generation of our lives, according to a study from Stanford, the majority of us will find that lasting happiness. For some, that may seem a long ways away, but by that time most people have found what makes them happy and learn to deal with what doesn’t.

Sure, the people in the Stanford aging study had their gripes and moans, but they balanced out the happiness in their lives, providing a level of emotional stability. It’s as if our time on the planet has given us the experience needed to not let the little things bother us.

The good news is that you can get an early start on your happiness without waiting for your 70th birthday. The key (other than devoting your life to meditation and becoming a Buddhist monk) is managing stress, avoiding it when possible, and coping with it adequately.

Why get angry if the dog chewed on something? That’s what dogs do.

Stuck in traffic? No biggie. That’s plenty of time to think.

Work getting you down? Look for something else.

These all sound simple, but the wisdom that comes with old age probably holds a lot more importance to happiness than we once thought. Whether there is a purpose to life or not, we all want to be happy, healthy, and hopefully wise.

The secret to finding that everlasting happiness? I’m not old enough to know yet. 

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Tags: Public Health & Policy

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About the Author

Brian Krans is an Assistant Editor and writer at Healthline.com.

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