Spoke to my Dad yesterday for the first time in just over a month. He’s just got back from a month’s cruise of the Caribbean, is already looking forward to his next holiday, and seems pretty pleased with life.
He’s 86, in good health and is positive about most things. In many ways I see him as a role model but according to research published this week, he’s not that unusual and maybe it’s just his age.
Using World Health Organisation data from across 60 countries, a leading neuroscientist has shown that happiness peaks at the age of 82.
Dr Daniel Levitin, who is a professor of psychology at McGill University in Canada, said: “If you look across the world the peak age of happiness tends to be about 82.
He argues that people get happier as they age and there’s neurochemical basis for it but also a psychological and practical one.
“You realise you’ve gotten through all these things that were stressing you out. If you make it to 82, you know you’ve managed [and] you’re OK.”
In his book The Changing Mind – a Neuroscientist’s Guide to Ageing Well, published in the UK on February 27th, he adds that happiness actually declines in our 30s but starts to pick up from the age of 54.
Dr Levitin, who at 62 has another two decades until his own happiness peaks, said his findings of a ‘sharp’ increase in happiness as people age “holds true across 72 countries from Albania to Zimbabwe”.
He attributes late-life happiness to people readjusting the “too-high expectations” of their youth to “realise that life is pretty good”. Other important factors were exercise, trying new experiences and nurturing relationships.
This is heartening news and I have to say somewhat surprising. I’m pretty positive about my next decade or so but didn’t anticipate getting happier still into my eighties.
I guess if your health holds and your finances are in a good place this can happen but 80-something does seem seriously old. Surely by then, and I’m being brutally honest here, the shadow of death starts to loom larger in your life.
Maybe that’s partly why – you know your time is limited so why worry, make the most of every moment. That’s certainly my Dad’s approach which larger revolves around simply doing more of what makes him happy and less of what doesn’t.
I’ll be getting Levitin’s book and am looking forward to learning more about the 30 years journey of which I’m already a third of the way through which will take me to peak happiness in 2042.