THE U-BEND THEORY OF HAPPINESS

The U-Bend Theory of Happiness suggests that our well-being tends to follow a U-shape from early adulthood to old age.

INTRO

Today's Social Saturday guest blogger is the lovely Donna from Retirement Reflections. Donna lives a million miles away from me on the other side of the world on Vancouver Island, British Columbia (I had to Google Map it to find out exactly where she was - and it looks like an amazing place to live!) Donna writes about the wonderful life she has as a newly retired lady of leisure - she and her husband are always off travelling somewhere new, hiking the Camino Trail, or eating, drinking and blogging. 

Donna writes a great blog and is such an encourager to other writers like myself, so it's a pleasure to have her on my blog today talking about Happiness (a favourite topic of mine). So without further ado.....here's Donna....

THE U-BEND THEORY OF HAPPINESS

While scanning trending articles on mid-life, I came across several posts on the “U-Bend Theory of Happiness.” “U-What?” As a mid-life/retirement blogger who steadily reads up on issues and theories affecting our niche, why hadn’t I heard of this before?
In its simplest definition, the U-Bend Theory suggests that our well-being tends to follow a U-shape from early adulthood to old age. People’s highest levels of happiness generally come at the beginning and later stretches of adult life with the lowest levels in the middle. Source.

the U-Bend Theory suggests that our well-being tends to follow a U-shape from early adulthood to old age.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Although the typical age for hitting the bottom dip in the U-bend varies from country to country, 46 is the global average. There are obvious zigs and zags along the way. Source.
While this general curve has been shown to exist across cultures and circumstances, it is more prominent in higher income countries. Source. Numerous theories have been offered to help explain persistent U-bend findings. Most researchers in this area agree that mindset contributes more heavily than circumstances.

the age for hitting the bottom dip in the U-bend varies from country to country, 46 is the global average. There are obvious zigs and zags along the way

Social scientists have found that (as a general rule) older people have greater solutions to conflict. They are often better at controlling emotions and more accepting of misfortune. Older people tend to argue less and anger less easily. As you age, your horizons shorten, and you focus more on the things that you like. Older people also learn to seek fulfillment in the moment and better temper their highs and lows.

CONTROLLING OUR REACTIONS

In one study, both young and old volunteers listened to a recording of unkind comments allegedly made about them. The older people were less upset, less judgmental and were more likely to shrug off the offending comments than the younger participants. Source. In another study on aging and happiness, researchers found that as we age, we tend to change our definition of happiness to center more on contentment and less on excitement. Source.

AS FOR ME...

Am I happier at 59 than I was at 46? Hard to say. I am definitely not unhappier. Unquestionably, I have significantly more freedom in my day, less frustration, less worry and less conflict. Has my mindset changed? Actually, I believe it is changing. Things that would have driven me CRAZY a few years ago, only drive me half-crazy now. That’s definite progress!

WHAT ABOUT YOU?

Have you previously heard of the U-Bend theory? Does this research ring true for you? If you are past the magic age of 46, would you say that you are happier now than you were then? I’d love for you to share your thoughts.


Donna and where you can find her:

thriving
About Donna: Donna lived in Beijing, China for fourteen years. Leaving international life behind, she and her husband retired to Vancouver Island, Canada, in June 2015. To document this transition, Donna initiated ‘Retirement Reflections.’ Her favorite part of blogging is the interaction with others. You can connect with Donna in the comment section below, or via the following social media sites. She would love to hear from you.
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The U-Bend Theory of Happiness suggests that our well-being tends to follow a U-shape from early adulthood to old age.

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108 comments

  1. I totally get this theory. My late 30s and my early 40s were seriously restless years - the times where even if I didn't say it aloud, I certaily felt it: Is this all there is? Work, responsibility, duty - it all weighs heavily. I can easily say that at 51 I'm definitely more content than I was a 46. I'm no longer feeling that I have gaps that need to be filled. I'm working just as hard - in some ways harder - but am less hung up on work stress. Great post.

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    1. Jo, I know exactly what you mean - it took me til I was 52 to have the courage to quit the job I hated and to reinvent my life, but every single day brings me more happiness now than it did in my 40s. Midlife is such a great secret!

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    2. Hi, Jo - Thank you so much for kicking off this discussion. So much of what you have written strong resonates with me -- restlessness in your 30's and 40's, feeling that there were gaps to be filled and now getting less hung up on stuff. I'm off to check out your site now.

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  2. Donna - I woke one day at the age of 46 with the exciting realization that I was 'mid-life' and therefore had another whole half-of-life to live and do great things! I then promptly began five years of one of the most difficult points in my life. So as for the bottom of the U-shape 46-51 was it for me. Now at almost 55, I'd say I'm much happier. I'm still not retired but loving self-employment and moving into empty-nest and preparing for the next phase. On another note -- I lived in Taiwan for a year and Hong Kong for almost 6. Not quite China proper but close... looking forward to following your blog.

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    1. Hi Janet - I'm so glad you've discovered Donna - you'll probably have lots in common! And yes, our early 50's seem to be the wake up call don't they? Time to start living our lives on our terms before we find out it's too late :)

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  3. Hi, Janet - I am delighted to meet you here. It sounds like we have much in common. Do you have a blog? If so, will you share the link with me?

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    1. Donna, Janet blogs here: https://janetmarycobb.wordpress.com/ if you want to check her blog out x

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  4. I have never heard of the U Bend Theory before, but it is interesting. I also think it has a lot of truth to it. There is one hitch, though. Crisis. 6 Years ago I was the happiest I have ever been. Great marriage. Great kids. I was living at a pace I was really comfortable with. Then, my husband was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. So, for the past 5+ years, we have lived with a non-stop medical crisis. A couple of years after that, our youngest daughter was diagnosed with high functioning autism. I love her so much, but she is the center of continuous drama in our home. So while I should actually be doing great in life according to the U Bend Theory, things aren't so great. I only bring this up because it seems like for this theory is going to work, you can't introduce any of the many crises that can happen in your life, or it will throw the whole curve off. What are your thoughts on this? I may be missing something.

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    1. I think you're right Heather - all theories are based on an average aren't they? There will always be exceptions to the rule. Many people go through major upheavals in their 50's and would be quick to dispute the U-Bend, but there are a very large number of people finding contentment and a sense of happiness as they settle into this age and stage where a lot of responsibilities have fallen away and they have more time for themselves. Maybe you just have a big bump in your U-Bend and you'll find it again in the years ahead x

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    2. Hi, Heather - Thank you so much for sharing this. I am so sorry to hear about your husband, and your daughter. My understanding of the key findings of the U-Bend research is that as we age we are better equipped to deal with stress and conflict. Studies reveal that older people argue less and resolve issues better, control their emotions better, deal with adversity better, and don’t get angry as easily. I am very interested in knowing your thoughts on this. Do these finding hold true for you?

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  5. Hi Donna and Hi to Leanne,
    I have never heard of the u bend of happiness theory . an interesting analogy –I do like this time of my life ( 60 ish )– the family grown the next generation running around my feet – being able to be still be silent be steady. I feel more knowing of my Self and more committed to following MY creative explorations . I no longer seek happiness or approval but instead find that the wisdom and joy of life finds me and for that I am very grateful.

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    1. Hi, Sandra - Thank you so much for commenting. I love your choice of phrases -- "the next generation running around my feet," "to be still be silent be steady." Your words instantly created strong visual images for me. They have definitely made me want to read your blog.

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    2. I think that's the secret as to why we're happy Sandra - we've stopped seeking approval and validation from others and we're taking responsibility for our own happiness - that's been such a key for me with being content at this age.

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  6. As always, Donna your post is interesting and thought provoking. I hadn’t heard of this theory before but it sort of makes sense. I was happy at 46 and I’m happy now at 57. I’m in a better place now in many ways, with no work commitments, or work stresses. None of us have perfect lives though and we are responsible for making the best of what we have. I have learnt this valuable lesson over the years. I also agree that I am getting better at managing conflict as I get older. Great to see you here at Leanne’s blog!

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    1. Hi, Debbie - I'm not surprised to hear that you were also happy at age 46. Recent wellness studies suggest that women are generally happier than men, extroverts are usually happiest, education leads to higher degrees of happiness and (although I cringe to type this) empty nesters are often found to be happier than those with children at home. I wholeheartedly agree with you that none of us have perfect lives. I also agree that age can bring wisdom, a change in mindset and better prepare us to deal with conflict and adversity. Thank you for leaving such a meaningful comment (as usual)!



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    2. Hi Deb - you're such a happy person on your blog and on FB - I think you had a permanent straight line of happiness! I totally agree with you about being better at conflict management and I don't take cr**p from other people any more - I won't own what's not mine to shoulder - it makes life a lot lighter!

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  7. Definitely a yes from me - I hadn’t heard of the theory, but everything you've written about it rings true. Experience is a great teacher so I feel I am much better at handling stresses etc than I used to be. The only downside is looking at the diminishing number of years ahead but there’s nothing I can do about that, so why worry!?

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    1. Hi Anabel - I think those diminishing years are what make us so appreciative of what we have right now. We're realizing that life is short and we are tossing out the trivial and really appreciating the quality of life we have - and celebrating it wherever possible.

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    2. Hi, Anabel - Thank you for commenting on this post. Your attitude of 'why worry about what we cannot control' seems to be a key factor of increased contentment as we age.
      It's interesting that you mention 'diminishing years.' Researchers found that when time horizons are relatively short, people tend to prioritize emotionally meaningful goals. For example, they spend time with people they already know that they like, doing things that they love. This trend seems to be one factor (of many) that can bring increased contentment in mid-life and beyond.

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  8. Hi Donna I haven't heard of the theory but it certainly makes sense. At almost 61 I am happier and more contented with my life. Turning 50 I realised that it was now 'my time' to enjoy my life as an individual as well as a wife, mother and grandmother. As we age and learn to accept and love ourselves for who we are, we realise that self-love and self-investment is not selfish but important to our total health and well-being. Another great contribution to Social Saturday, thanks Leanne.

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    1. Fifty seems to have been the wake up call for a lot of us Sue - it's like we've come out into the sunshine after being all things to all people and we now have time to focus on ourselves and we've stopped taking all the cares on board - it's a really freeing stage of life and blogging has added to the happiness :)

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    2. Hi, Sue - I agree that as we age, we often increase our self-acceptance and finally realize that self-love and self-investment do not automatically mean selfishness. I love how Leanne added 'blogging' and 'freedom' in her reply. A study from the University of Pennsylvania analyzed the emotional content of millions of blog posts. The data uncovered strongly suggests that as we age, we appear to change our definition of happiness, associating it more with peacefulness and less with excitement. Researchers also found that younger people are more likely to experience pure, 'black and white' happiness or sadness, whereas older people are more likely to experience sadness and happiness mixed together, better leading to acceptance and contentment.

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    3. Thanks Donna for sharing at #MLSTL this week. I'm sharing on all social media and loved re-reading your thoughts. Enjoy your day xx

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    4. Hi Donna: I am curious about the University of Pennsylvania study. Could you share the link?

      Jude

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  9. The only part that is clearly not happier (for me) is the empty nester thing. I miss that time in my life--when my kids were living at home and growing up. But I am happier when I wake up in the morning, look at my calendar, and don't have 400 things I have to do. That is freeing.

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    1. It's funny, I don't miss having my kids living at home. I like not worrying about them and checking who's home for dinner etc - my thing is that I'd like them to live a bit closer to home so we could see them more often! Still, having launched successful young adults into the world adds to my happiness curve and all that free space on the calendar is definitely a bonus too!

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    2. Hi, Cathi - Thank you for mentioning the 'empty nest thing.' Although I see my sons and grandchildren regularly (or as regularly as I can with my youngest son currently living in Singapore), this topic continues to hit a nerve for me. When I was citing some happiness research in reply to Deb Harris's comment above, I cringed when I typed the words "empty nesters are often found to be happier than those with children at home." Although I believe I am more content today than I have ever been, I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss those magical years of child-rearing!

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  10. Great to see you here, Donna, with a well-researched and clearly written post as always! I heard of the theory when I was much younger and remember I was wondering what to come in my 40s. So far no big dip. I was happy at 46 and I'm happy now. I agree though that with age and life experiences, I feel I'm better at managing stressful situations. Thanks, Leanne, for sharing Social Saturday and Donna here.

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    1. Hi Natalie - Donna's post has opened some great discussion and I love that it's a different slant to what I've blogged on, but ties in so well. It's also great reading the comments and seeing so many happy Midlifers - it's a great stage of life and it's nice to see so many women who are enjoying it.

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    2. Hi, Natalie - Thank you for your kind words. Some people seem to have the knack to live life to the fullest at every stage of their lives. Following your blog posts makes me believe that you are a great example of this. In my understanding of the U-Bend theory, one could easily replace the word "Happiness" with "Contentment," "Self-Knowledge" or "Self-Acceptance." I don't believe that this research means to suggest that none of us were truly happy in our 40's (at least I hope that it doesn't)! :) As you have wisely stated, I believe that the ability to manage and accept difficult situations is the critical difference between youth and maturity.

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  11. Interesting theory, and one I've never heard of before either. I do think as we get older that we begin to live more and worry less - I never used to stand up for myself but these days I'm quite capable of saying, "Up Yours," (in my head) and walking away, rather than trying to make everything all nice and peaceful. I think the bottom of my U Bend was probably when I turned 30, just pre-kids and at a time when I felt old and wondered where I was going in life -Lol! if only I could have looked ahead 30 years on that one!

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    1. Isn't it funny how we look back at ourselves and how we had no idea of what was to come? I didn't realize that Midlife would be so enjoyable - I think waking up to the fact that I could choose to leave a job that I was hating, and at the same time gain more time for myself and doing stuff I loved really helped me with happiness in my 50s. I don't think 30 year old me would have believed how great life is in my 50s!

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    2. Hi, Jo - Thank you for dropping by and commenting. I agree that hindsight is always such a wise teacher. As the U-bend theory works on averages, you are correct that different people (and different cultures) hit the bottom of their U-bend curve at different times. Researchers at Dartmouth College looked at the average U-curves for people from over 70 different countries. They found that (on average) the Swiss hit the bottom of this curve at age 35, while Ukrainians tended to meet the low at age 62. While the global average was 46, that number is a generality and can vary significantly for the individuals involved. I loved the photograph that Leanne included showing a U-curve with noticeable dips and jumps along the way. That visual image makes much sense to me.

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  12. Hi Donna and Leanne, I am not aware of the theory, but I agree with the findings; based on averages of course. The reader above who mentioned crisis is a clear exception.I think that both health and finances would greatly impact the happiness curve. It rings true for me at around age 48 or 49, since that is when we retired and our daughter left home for college. Being happily married also contributed to the up-tick on the happiness meter. Becoming more self-aware and accepting of myself also contributes. I am at a place where my definition of good enough really is good enough. Life is much less stressful when you let go of the expectations of others and trust your own voice. Thank you guys for sharing.

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    1. Hi Suzanne - Thank you for your very thoughtful comment. You hit the nail on the head when you said that 'self-awareness' and 'self-acceptance' play big roles here. From what I've read, researchers would strongly agree with you. In fact, their findings (that definitely focus on trends and averages) show that it is change in mindset that is the key.
      In most studies, the U-shaped curve remained even when researchers controlled for external factors such as birth cohort, physical health, income, number of children, marital status, and education. In fact, some researchers have even claimed to have detected this pattern in great apes. How cool is that?!

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    2. You're so right about letting go of expectations Suzanne - that was a crucial step for me in finding some real happiness. Every time I expect something to be a certain way and it's not, the disappointment sets in and saps the happiness right out of me. I'm also really appreciating having a solid marriage and adult kids who are thriving - it takes a lot of pressure off.

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  13. Hi Donna and Leanne,
    I really appreciate the research you did for this post, Donna. I've heard of the U-bend theory applied to change, but not to our lifespan. It makes lots of sense.
    I would have said that I was happy in my 40s, but when I compare then to now, well there is no comparison. In my forties, I was happy being successful in my career. In the past year or two (I'll be 59 in August), I got happy with my new life and I'm still climbing that upward stroke the second U. Ecstatic and joyful may not be too strong as substitutes for happy :)

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    1. Hi, Karen - Thank you for your kind words. Your comment has reminded me that we are 10-months apart in age. That, combined with similar career backgrounds and residing in neighboring cities for many years, its no wonder that your posts often resonate so strongly with me. Your comment also brought to mind 'socio-emotional selectivity,' which is also critical in the U-bend research. As young adults, we are often expected to 'bank' many experiences. We may invest in things that may not be our preferred use of time at the moment, but that we hope will reap rewards in the future. We are often conditioned to do things that will help open educational opportunities, career doors and enhance our CVs. That doesn't mean that we didn't enjoy some of those things (unless you are talking about the course that I took in chemistry...just in case!) As we become older, we accept that there's less time left to realize payoff from such investments, so we are more likely to focus on what truly interests us now. For me, that's a pretty good description of my life right now!

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    2. I'm the same Karen - my 40's weren't unhappy, but my 50's have definitely been on the upward curve. As I've let go of different responsibilities I've found time to relax more and settle into this new stage of life. To know that everyone is doing okay and I can focus on myself more has been quite enriching. Now I just need to continue the upward curve over the decades to come!

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  14. I had not heard of this theory as applied to our lives but at the orientation four years ago when our daughter was going to college and live in the dorms one of the speakers talked about the curve of college life and how at first the student would be so excited and ready to learn and then a few months later would go through a depression and want to come home and then go back up again when they were getting close to the end. It happened and fortunately she was able to get through the I want to come home stage and graduated last month! I do feel it in my life too as now that all the kids are grown I am looking forward to doing more things "for me" so I guess I'm on the upswing too! This also is a positive lesson as, if the up of the "U" is where we are when we pass away, it means we go out on top!

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    1. Hi, Janet - Congratulations on your daughter's graduation. I love your analogy. It makes good sense to me. The only things that some researchers may disagree with is going out 'on top'. In several 'U-Bend' studies, where researchers were able to follow participants into late stages of old age, there sometimes was a drop in happiness in the last year of two of people's lives. This also made sense to me. Richard's grandmother lived to be 107. Although she was still strong of mind, she rapidly experienced her children and loved ones dwindling and being hit with fatal illnesses. Her physical health also began to produce more and more pain for her. She understandably began to lose some of her trademark optimism. Still, she remained a remarkable woman who was greatly loved.

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    2. How lovely that your daughter made it through and can now embark on the next stage of her life Janet. You can give yourself a pat on the back and let that phase quietly pass and move onto enjoying more headspace and more freedom. It's wonderful watching our kids succeed in life and I'm sure it adds to our happiness. I love that mine are doing well and that I don't need to fret about them - it gives me time now for "me" and for chilling out - I'm looking forward to the years ahead too - I plan to go out with a bang too and not be a miserable old cow in old age :)

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  15. Donna, (and Leanne), I used to tell my students, "If you don't learn something new every day, you might as well stay in bed." Well this U-Bend theory of happiness is my "thing" for today. I had never heard of it before, but I would absolutely attest to its being true. One of my favorite mantras in retirement is "You never know how tired (or stressed, or worried, or unhappy) you were until you're NOT! That's the way it has been since I gave up teaching. I was constantly exhausted and run down...now I'm on the upswing of the U, and it just keeps getting better! Great post, Donna! ~ Lynn

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    1. Hi, Lynn - Your comment is crammed full of wise thoughts (as usual)! I agree that when we are going full tilt, and are at our busiest, we often don't realize just how insane our pace has been until we truly get a chance to step away. It is reassuring to know that (at least concerning contentment and acceptance) it is not just our imagination, research confirms that we are on an upswing! I wholeheartedly echo your sentiments, the upswing of the U-curve is a great place to be.

      BTW - I would love to have heard different student reactions to your statement ending with them staying in bed!

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    2. Hi Lynn, thanks for stopping by and I'm glad Donna gave you something new to think about. I was the same as you in my last job - stressed and unhappy - and so glad to leave it behind. There are often less than wonderful times in my current job, but I only work 2 days a week now and it's easy to let the bad stuff wash over me and fall away now that it's not the focus of my life. I can't wait for retirement - more of the U curve upswing to come!

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  16. Hi Donna and Leanne! What fun to find you both here together. And yes, I've heard about this research and believe it is vitally important that bloggers in our demographic need to be spreading it around some. Like you mention, a key is a mindset that is willing to acknowledge that growing older comes with more benefits than we ever realized before. While I actually had a very happy 40s decade myself, my early 60s have been wonderful. I am now so encouraged by all the positive information I am reading about positive aging that I look forward to what is to come. Thanks for the reminder. ~Kathy

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    1. Hi, Kathy - Thank you for your encouraging comment. You have not only supported the importance of the U-bend research, you have also validated what so many bloggers in our demographic have been attempting to do. If it weren't for the blogs that I currently follow, I would be much less aware of the excellent research, and real-life examples, of positive aging. I love your message that it is essential for midlife+ bloggers to continue to share and dialogue about pertinent topics that affect so many of us.

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    2. I knew you would have heard of it Kathy - I'd come across it somewhere too and I know that a lot of my happiness has come from the positive influence of this great group of Midlife bloggers I've surrounded myself with. So many women living happy, productive, healthy lives and celebrating their 50s and 60s - not fading into obscurity or questioning their worth - I'm loving it!

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  17. Hi, Donna (and Leanne). You present a very interesting theory. I couldn't help but think about my parents while reading it. I remember they both went through so many physical and emotional changes as they hit their late 40's -- my mother obviously, but I think my father also -- and I suppose we all feel these things ourselves whether we realize it or not. However, that arc towards acceptance in later years is certainly selective: I saw a mellowing with my father for sure, but not Mom! :) Still, I think this theory rings true with my siblings and myself, plus many of my peers. Thanks for posting about this. - Marty

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    1. Hi, Marty - Thank you for dropping by and sharing these personal, real-life examples. While the U-bend research has been very rigorous and wide-spread, you are absolutely right, averages are just that...and individuals defy averages all of the time. I am sorry to hear about your Mom. While I do not know her individual circumstances, you help to raise another excellent point. While some happiness research (not all) indicates that women tend to be happier than men, most research does reveal that women are more prone to depression and 25% of women in North America suffer from this. Again I appreciate your comments - much to think about!

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    2. Hi Marty - so glad you stopped by (and even left a comment!) and it's interesting to read the different reactions to growing older from your parents' perspective. I think all theories like this one are based on the average and don't take into account those who may be disappointed in their lives, or who are depressed - or those who've had an amazing younger life and feel let down by middle age. I'm really glad that I'm finding my 50's to be so great - I wouldn't swap them for the world!

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  18. Hi, Donna and Leanne - Very interesting and I can relate to the post, it makes a lot of sense, I am feeling the upswing now. I have always operated on a rigid structure, very organized, etc. I am now easing off of that now that my girls are grown adults, not as rigid and working on maintaining an even tone. I do not do well with open time and still feel the need to be productive, but I am pursuing things that I enjoy and give myself permission to slow off of the "busy-ness" stuff and focus on quality things. I think more first before reacting, just not worth getting worked up and feeling miserable and let it eat you away. I am working on hubby now to stop and think about things as well, when he retires I can't have doomsday around me, haha! Great post, loved it!
    Lori Jo - www.50withflair.com

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    1. Hi, Lori Jo - Organized, structured and the need to stay busy and productive? We have lots in common! Now that I am retired, I too have been (slowly) relaxing my naturally driven personality. Even in my fun/passion areas, when busyness starts to be all-consuming, I now step back, take a break and get myself back on track. I enjoyed your comment about preventing doom and gloom with your husband. Great sense of humour!

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    2. Hi Lori Jo - I think one of the joys of blogging is that it fills a void in our lives that may be left from slowing down our working/parenting stages of life. It also connects us with others who want to expand their horizons and learn new things. Everyone who takes on a blog and learns a million new things (and tears their hair out in the process) and that adds to keeping us on our toes and I think it creates happiness through achieving new goals.
      I hope your husband finds his "thing" when retirement comes - maybe he'll improve his photography skills and be able to start taking your fashion pics (although I think the airport one would make a great post!)

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  19. I've heard of the theory, but not by name. I think there is some truth to it. At age 65 I find that I think very differently from how I thought when I was younger. But I am also, in some ways, more impatient and more intolerant, as I feel the weight of time seeming to speed up on me - I've seen old people who become bitter, or seem to lose interest in life altogether, or lose themselves in dementia (as my mother in law, 90, is). So, as you say, it's all about averages. I hope I end up on the happy side of the average. Alana ramblinwitham.blogspot.com

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    1. Hi, Alana - Thank you for leaving such an honest and thoughtful comment. When looking at research studies, trends or typical milestones, I agree that it is important to keep 'averages' not 'absolutes' in mind. Your comment shows much self awareness and a willingness to change psst attitudes and beliefs to better fit your current reality. I too hope to end up on the 'happy side of average.' I look forward to seeing you there!

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    2. It's tricky isn't it Alana? Trying to appreciate all that this later stage of life offers, counterbalanced by the fact that we don't know how long it will last for. Maybe it's that bitter/sweet flavour that makes us seek out new ideas and keeping on looking for all the lovely things life has for us right now. Who knows what tomorrow brings?

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  20. This was a super interesting read. I'm only 29, so I guess I can't comment on being at the other side of the U-bend. However, I don't think my happiness has declined since early adulthood (18ish), as this theory postulates. If anything, I would say it has increased. Maybe that has a bit to do with my life going pretty well so far! At the same time though, I do have more responsibilities and less time for myself these days than when I was younger so I could have reason to be less happy perhaps. For me though, happiness comes from my faith in God and where I am with that - the times when I am furthest from God are the times when I am least happy and content and vice versa. This time in my life I know God and am closest to him the most I ever have been, so I would say that is why I am happier now than at 18. I hope I can say the same thing for every year that goes by :-).

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    1. Hi Hannah - I think you've been very blessed to have a life where there haven't been any major hurdles. You might be lucky enough to be one of those people who never get hit by any of life's sucker punches. I guess if life goes smoothly and pretty much as you expect it to, then your happiness doesn't take a downward curve - although I'm sure it must level out at some stage.
      My life has been a bit more of a roller coaster - I wouldn't say I that there was a large chunk of time where I was particularly unhappy, but I do feel that the years post-50 have been simpler and more cruisy than some of the years that have led up to it! The U curve works for me and I'm looking forward to it continuing to rise (it might have something to do with grandbabies) x

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    2. Hi, Hannah - It is wonderful to hear from someone who is in the 'earlier part of the U-curve.' My understanding of this theory is that self-awareness, self-acceptance, wisdom, and confidence are key factors in the 'increased well-being' in the later part of the curve. Your strong faith may also have strengthened these areas early on. Several commenters, who are on the later part of the curve, have described themselves as being 'happy people' throughout their lives. You just may be part of this group!

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    3. I don't think it is fair to say that I have never had any major hurdles in life, although comparatively they may be few or small (I'm only young yet, I'm sure there will be more). I think God knows the things that test us and sends us appropriate challenges to achieve what he purposes. That looks differently in one person's life as compared to another person's. I found my miscarriages and post-natal depression (both pretty big sucker punches) to be the toughest times in my adult life so far and these really did test my faith and whether I would choose to find my happiness in my circumstances or in God.

      I can see that people are probably more likely to experience a peak in happiness after they have learnt to accept themselves and stand up for what they believe and that this is most likely to occur after midlife when there have been many life lessons to teach these things (hence the U-turn). However I guess what I'm saying is that I don't think it MUST be that way (a decline in happiness before an increase) - my experience has been that everything I need for wisdom, self-acceptance and joy itself is found in relationship with God. I speak this belief so that my testimony can be the same as that of David who said in Psalm 57:

      I will praise you, Lord, among the nations;
      I will sing of you among the peoples.
      For great is your love, reaching to the heavens;
      your faithfulness reaches to the skies.

      My prayer is that my happiness will only be found in God's love and faithfulness, regardless of how old I am or what my circumstances are. xox

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    4. Actually that's a really good point Hannah - we often forget that others have struggles that they overcome and put behind them and move forward. I think what I was trying to say was that there are a lot of hurdles that we go through in life and those seem to smooth out as we hit our 50's and it's nice to not be jumping through all those hoops any more and that's were the curve starts to climb upwards for a lot of us.
      As Donna pointed out, some people seem to handle their hurdles better than others and maybe they never bottom out in their happiness and it's a smoother journey all the way through - I really hope that your journey continues to be an upward curve without all the zig zags that have marked my journey (maybe God needed to teach me more lessons because I'm slow to catch on?) xx

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    5. Thanks favourite mother-in-law, I see where you're coming from now :-). xox

      Thanks for a thought provoking post, Donna!

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  21. Thank you, Leanne, for introducing Donna. And thank you Donna for this post.

    Coincidentally, only this afternoon my friend and I were discussing happiness.

    I haven't heard of the U-Bend Theory of Happiness. Learnt something new. The theory does make sense.

    My take on this is that no one can give anyone happiness. It is something we all have to discover ourselves, within our surroundings and among what we have.

    Practically, it is very difficult to say conclusively that how happy one is depends of X, Y, or Z. In other words, we all find our own routes to happiness.

    -- Pradeep | bpradeepnair.blogspot.in

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    1. Hi Pradeep, One of the biggest lessons I've learned in life is that you can't depend on other people or on things to make you happy. Happiness is tied to your own reactions and expectations - the more you choose to be happy and content, the happier you become.
      The U curve works because it takes us until our 50's to figure out that simple truth! Maybe the curve will change if younger people choose contentment over competition and start being grateful for all they have and not always looking for the next best thing.

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    2. Hi, Pradeep - I greatly appreciate you taking part in this discussion. You raise several wise points. I agree that happiness is something that we need to discover for ourselves and that we all find our own routes there. I also agree with Leanne's suggestion that it takes many of us experience, trial and error and self-awareness to reach this 'wisdom' and 'acceptance.'

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  22. I haven't heard of the U Bend Theory but I get it. Since accepting that it was now or never, I'm much happier , more confident and more content than I ever was in younger years. This is a great time of life.

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    1. You've summed it up beautifully Jennifer - it's a great stage of life isn't it? I think we've finally settled into our true selves and that brings with it a happiness and contentment that we'd been missing in our younger years.

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    2. Hi, Jennifer - I love your 'now or never' attitude. For many reasons (that I used to always blame on 'work'), I often put off many 'risks' and 'adventures' until 'later.' I have recently joined in the 'now or never theme song.' This attitude has made a world of positive difference!

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  23. Hi Donna and Leanne,

    What an interesting post! I am in the happiest part of my life right now, so I believe there is truth to the U-bend theory. After many years of drama, tears, and crises, I am delighting in every happy day. I do realize nothing lasts - the good times nor the bad - so am very grateful for where I am in life now. I do wonder how many people are in the happy part of the U but are so mired in the past that they don't even realize it. Seems to me I have met a few of those. ;-)
    Thanks for sharing!

    Deb

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    1. Hi Deb - thanks for stopping by and I couldn't agree with you more - I think life is good because we've had the highs and lows and now we appreciate what we have. I also know a few of those unhappy people who are missing the boat because they are so stuck in their own misery traps - what a sad way to spend Midlife. I have no intention of wasting these great years dwelling on stuff that isn't positive and proactive!

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  24. Hi, Deb - I am thrilled to read that you are now experiencing the happiest part of your life. I greatly admire your wisdom. Realizing that nothing lasts (both good times and bad) helps us to more fully engage in and appreciate our present. I look forward to reading more of your thoughts and adventures.

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  25. what an interesting theory - and not entirely incorrect. I am absolutely happier now than when I was in my 30's and 40's. Don't get me wrong, I was happy then too, but the exhaustion and frustration of raising children and working and worrying about money took so much energy. It is so wonderful to be in a place where those worries are lessened - whether by actual improvement in situation or just plain old perspective, it is hard to say. But still, an excellent situation to be aware of.

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    1. Hi, Laura - It is great to meet you here. This body of research indicates that mindset and perspective are central to midlifers+ feeling more content in their later years. Still, I agree with you. It is often hard to tell if it is our improved situations, attitude or a combination of both that help us to chill out and not always take the bait!

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    2. I think you put it beautifully Laura - it's being released from all those responsibilities that brings with it a sense of freedom and lightness - that has to equate to extra happiness!

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  26. I am much happier now than I was at 46. At 46 I was in a bad relationship, had moved many miles from home for the relationship and was trying to start menopause. Even with husbands diagnosis I am happier and calmer at 67 there aren't the peaks and valleys there were when I was younger.

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    1. Hi, Victoria - Thank you so much for commenting. I always look forward to reading your thoughts. You are an excellent example of the U-bend model of happiness. Despite difficult challenges in your retirement years, your mindset has allowed you to remain calm and enjoy what you have minimalizing the ups and downs.

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    2. I'm so happy that you can see that you're on the upward swing Victoria - life might throw some real curve balls at us, but if we're in healthy relationships and making good decisions then happiness can still play a big role in our lives.

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  27. So much happier now as I am six months from 50. Great thoughts that were shared here. Thanks

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    1. Thank you so much for reading and commenting. I am glad to read that you are experienced increased happiness on the second side of the U-curve!

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    2. Ahhhh Patrick you young thing! Think how much happiness is still ahead of you on that U curve :)

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  28. What an interesting theory, Donna. I am well past 46, and while I can't answer definitively that I am happier than I was in my 30s and 40s, I am definitely more at ease and more confident that I can handle what life brings and that difficult times will pass. I have no desire to go back in time, so I guess that means I am happier.

    Thanks, Leanne, for sharing Donna's thought-provoking post with us.

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    1. It's been wonderful having Donna on the blog over the weekend Christie - and there's been some great responses to her post. I think we all agree that Midlife is a whole lot happier and more upbeat than we anticipated! I'm looking forward to sharing your post soon x

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  29. Hi, Christie - Thank you for adding to the discussion. I agree with you that 'happiness' is often hard to compare...or even to define. But you have zoomed in on key research findings, i.e. increased ease and confidence as we age.As much as I enjoyed my 30's and 40's, I'm totally with you on not wanting to go back in time!

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  30. Hi Donna, I think you are right about being more equipped to handle things as we age. I can't imagine going through these kinds of things in my younger years. There is a steadiness and a better ability to prioritize that comes with age. It's just interesting that often the harder things of life hit us as we age, as well. This is very thought provoking. What an excellent post!

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    1. Hi, Heather - I greatly appreciate you continuing the conversation. This topic provokes much thought, and each new comment helps provide a bit more inside (or at least another question)! You make an excellent point about harder things in life seeming to hit us as we age. Perhaps this realization also adds to our shift in mindset in our later years. There appear to be many interwoven factors here.

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    2. I guess that's why we go through all the little hurdles through life Heather - to prepare us for what old age is going to throw at us! I feel like I'm in a period of hiatus atm - where things have settled down and life is simple and good. Part of me knows it can't last forever - but I'm going to enjoy it one day at time!

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  31. Hi Donna! I've never heard of the U-Bend theory, but it makes sense that older people are wiser, and therefore more realistic about their expectations and life, and happier because of their realizations.

    I'm not 46 yet, so I can't guarantee whether I'll be happier in the future. Barring potential health issues of me or my spouse, I do think that I'll be happier later in life, and that my mindset will shift.

    I've been in plenty of situations where criticism has hit us hard and personal. Over time, you learn to handle it better, but it always affects you. Having no money worries will be my number 1 goal once I reach the retirement age. I've been able to live life mostly on my own terms by choice, but work is (and might always have to be) a part of a life less conventional. :-)

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    1. Hi, Liesbet - You just may be one of the wisest people that I know (seriously). Prior to the age of 46, I would have disagreed with this theory vehemently. "How could seniors have more wisdom than youth? Preposterous!", I would have thought. ;) I do (now) agree that over time we learn to take things less personally. Although, there are still days when I need to practice this a bit more!

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    2. Liesbet you lead such an interesting life and I guess that has ups and downs that comes with it. I truly believe you'll find that life simplifies and gets easier over the next decade. One day you'll wake up and think - "gee my life is easy" and that's when you know you're on the upward curve that is predicted by this theory!

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  32. I hadn't heard about this theory before, but it is interesting. I always find interesting what these studies consider a measure of "happiness" because that's not something you can really measure definitively is it?

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    1. Hi, Jen - Awesome point! I agree that the title word of this study is a bit misleading. When I read the studies further, they tend to focus on change in mindset, acceptance, and calmness. I agree that it is difficult to define and measure happiness (although many have tried and continue to do so)!

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    2. That was a really interesting point Jen - and I think what Donnas says about our change of focus is definitely an indicator of how "happy" we feel. I believe we are all responsible for how happy we choose to be, but as we learn to expect less and be grateful for more, the more peaceful and pleasant life becomes - and the happier we feel as a result.

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  33. I hadn't heard about this theory but I believe it's absolutely spot on. As children, we had much less stress in our lives (at least those of us growing up in the 50's). Now as a septuagenarian, I find myself very comfortable in where I am and how I am doing. Great post!

    #MLSTL visitor (shared on SM)

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    1. You're right about things being simple and stressfree when we were children Donna - maybe the curve starts to go back up once we start simplifying and de-stressing our lives in our 50's :)

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    2. Hi, Donna - Thank you for stopping by from #MLSTL and sharing this post on your social media. Being comfortable in who you are, and how you are doing, is a wonderful way to live!

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  34. I hadn't heard of this before, but it makes sense. I'm past that midpoint in the bell curve there. I'll have to pay attention and see how I fare with this theory. Sharing on FB & twitter for #MLSTL

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    1. Hi, Trisha - Thank you for stopping by and for sharing. I am off to read your post now!

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    2. I think we're all quite excited about the idea that we're past the low point and it's uphill all the way (or in my case it will be a downhill coast from the crest!)

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  35. HI Donna. Wow, such a great set of comments to this post!! I've seen the data but had not heard it called that name. And as many have pointed out, it's all average data, so there are always outliers.

    Personally, I've made a choice to be more positive...so I can definitely say I am happier now. That choice was based on seeing data about positivity and longevity...and in fact, just liking people who were more positive and wanting to be more like them! The freedom that comes with being retired has helped... I can choose to do (or not do) what I want (mostly). But for me it is also a choice to find the positive in a situation, to focus on gratitude. Not that I don't have the funk-days. But yes, I would say that my 50's are definitely happier than my 40's! And the 60s... if the curve holds true... watch out!

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    1. Pat you are so right about it being a choice - we all have the ability to choose how we respond to what life throws at us. I think it took me until I was 50 to grasp that I was the one who held the key to being happy in my life - I'm more able to separate myself from expectations and to learn to live in the moment - no wonder I feel happier than I did at 40!

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  36. Thanks, Pat - I was delighted with the comments to this post! There are such thoughtful, generous people out there. It's incredibly powerful when they come together, especially when discussing an idea relevant to so many of our lives.
    BTW - I may have just received a 'whisper' from the Universe. I began typing this comment as "When two or more minds come together'. Instantly, I received an email message from Canva saying 'Two heads are better than one!' Now, I just need to figure out what that whisper means! :)

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    1. Donna there's a blog post in there - you'll be writing about "whispers from the Universe" by the end of Summer - I can feel it in my waters (a Le Cras family saying - very profound!) And thanks again for all your replying and commenting - this has been a huge post hasn't it?

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  37. These are interesting data, especially the fact that the U-bend of happiness has been observed across men and women, and in many parts of the world. I looked at most of the sources that you cited, Donna, and it seems that there is some counter-evidence for this pattern, mostly coming from countries where people are less economically secure. I wonder if there are multiple interacting factors influencing why people in high-income countries tend to be less happy in their mid-life years? Some of these could be: financial anxiety/insecurity, demanding work obligations, challenges of raising a family, developmental challenges of establishing onself (in a relationship, in a career, as a parent), and midlife crisis (is this all there is to life?).

    Personally, I have enjoyed every stage of life so far, although I’d have to say that this first year of retirement at age 61 has been one of the happiest years in my adult life.

    Finally, situational factors (as Heather pointed out) have a huge influence on any individual person’s experience, regardless of the general demographic trend. For me, my first husband’s early death, being a single parent, and working in a dysfunctional workplace all impacted my happiness during parts of my midlife.

    Jude

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  38. Hi, Jude - Thank you for your incredibly thoughtful comment. You are absolutely correct--this U-Bend pattern has been found across the world, in men, women (plus chimpanzees and orangutans). As you stated, it is prevalent in wealthier countries. Citizens of poorer countries demonstrated different patterns with some sadly showing low levels of satisfaction throughout their lifespan. Despite its prevalence, many researchers have attempted to discredit the U-Bend theory by suggesting other reasons for this pattern (i.e., happier people living longer). Lots to think about!

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  39. Another fabulous post by another awesome blogger. I agree with everything everyone else has said. Donna’s posts are always so informative and interesting, not to mention spot on. Thanks again Leanne 😊

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I love it when you leave a comment and I reply to them all.
If you'd like to have a conversation, feel free to email me any time - leanne.lecras@gmail.com