According to the Daily Telegraph, researchers in America have concluded that happiness is U-shaped. Unburdened by worry or responsibility, young people see happiness levels drop once they get beyond 25, and take on responsibilities at work and with their own family. It’s only in late middle age that this recovers, and even then it’s not the same type of happiness: the youthful sunny outlook on life is not the same as our outlook when we’re 65: it’s just that we come to appreciate things more when we get to that age.
The survey covered nearly 350,000 Americans, and concluded that the upward curve starts at 40, and peaks when we’re 85. Mmmmm, not quite so sure that is my experience: when I was 40 my two children were about to launch into private education, a period in which I was as strapped financially as I have ever been, combined with the seemingly inexorable pressure that one seemed to incur as a parent with the whole education/exam routine. It was only as they came out of school that I felt that burden lift and the happiness levels rise.
And what about the peaking at 85 conclusion? So at 85 I am going to be more happy than I will be at 65? Does not compute, me thinks. 85 year olds are the happiest people in the world, then? I’m not sure that’s been my experience.
When I work with groups on Change Management I often refer to the Kubler Ross Grief Model, which describes the stages we go through when we experience change. It is sometimes developed into “The Change Curve.” One of the roles of a manager working with a team that is going through change is to recognise this curve, support people as they go through it, and of course aim to have people accepting the change and coming up the positive side of it as soon as possible.
I’m wondering whether there is a similar idea here to be developed: recognising that the U shape happiness curve is probably going to happen for most people, aiming to keep it as shallow as possible, and making the bottom of it as short as possible, so that people are moving towards the Happiness zone again as early as possible. What strategies would work to make this work? Good question, I think I need to go away and consider that one for a couple of months!