The Happiness Curve. What could it be? Another way of describing a smile perhaps? That’s what I thought too, and it could be true as well. But the happiness curve is also the name of a book by Jonathan Rauch.
The author describes an important phenomenon related to happiness and age. His findings are quite surprising, and show that happiness declines in the late twenties, bottoms out around the fifties, and then moves up thereafter. This when plotted on a chart, is shaped like a U. And that is our happiness curve.
Why is it this way? Because youngsters tend to have high expectations from their lives. In most cases perhaps a little too high. The shortcut to Partner or MD, or having millions of dollars worth of shares in a billion dollar tech IPO are within the reach of only a few people. The rest? They are probably doing exceedingly well too, but not as much as they would like. So are they happy? Not really.
What happens in the fifties? People interestingly don’t become more dejected or depressed. Instead, their excessive optimism undergoes a systemic shift. They become realistic. And what a difference that makes, with happiness making a steady comeback!
This is wonderful information. Because this study tells us that most people link happiness to career/societal objectives and expectations. It’s good to give our best to our work and keep lofty goals, especially in the service of greater good. However, voluntarily deferring happiness by twenty or thirty years is unnecessary. We can be realistic today itself – not by setting lowly goals, but by realising that despite doing our best, sometimes things may not happen our way, and that we should not lose sleep over it. So we can start with happiness (just a mental toggle switch!), and then go about doing our work. The U curve will then morph into a 45-degree angle straight line to the right, or preferably even just bolt up to the sky at 90-degrees.
The next milestone won’t make us happy. The next purchase won’t make us feel better. The next increment in our paychecks won’t make our lives better. If we don’t appreciate what we already have, nothing we can add onto today will make us happy – sustainably.