Besides basic survival, the pursuit of happiness is what consumes almost everyone, young and old. But what is happiness and how does our idea of it change as we age?
A new study provides some answers. Indeed research found that many older people are actually happier with daily life than those who are 18.
Across a series of eight studies, researchers asked participants to recall, plan, or imagine happy experiences in an attempt to draw a distinction between experiences that are ordinary (common and frequent) versus extraordinary (uncommon and infrequent). The researchers were specifically interested in testing their theory that younger people will associate extraordinary experiences with greater happiness than ordinary experiences.
The research, published in the Journal of Consumer Research, involved 200 people from across the United States between the ages of 18 and 79. Participants were asked to recall a recent extraordinary experience that made them happy. The responses were placed into 12 broad categories that included spending time with others, life milestones and travel. While responses from all age groups reported happiness from extraordinary experiences, the results also indicated that happiness from ordinary experiences was more common among older people.
"Young people actively seeking to define themselves find it particularly rewarding to accumulate extraordinary experiences that mark their progression through life milestones. On the other hand, once people are older and have established a better sense of who they are, the experiences they view as self-defining are just as likely to include the routine daily events that reveal how they like to spend their time," wrote authors Amit Bhattacharjee (Dartmouth College) and Cassie Mogilner (Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania) in a press release.
Other studies also have examined the link between age and happiness. In one study publicized last year, researchers found that our happiness in life goes in waves throughout the years, peaking when we're age 23, dipping down in the mid-50s, and peaking again when we're 69.
Yet another study from 2011 found that Americans are most happy between the ages of 75 and 79. It also found that Americans are unhappiest between 40 and 44. Can anyone say 'midlife crisis'?
What do you think? At what age do you believe people are happiest? Let us know in comments.