Happy Birthday, Larry? via Joi/Flickr
Ah, remember after you graduated college? You were going to take on the world! You were educated and young; your friends still lived in town. Your loans were still in deferment.
And then the reality of life, like the gathering darkness of night, closed in all around you. Impatient letter from loan agencies piled up at your door, and the economy’s on-going tanking thwarted that world-conquering urge at every turn. Friends got married or disappeared. As you moved back in with Mom and Dad, with Time magazine adding insult to the injury, you wondered: Did I peak at 23?
As it turns out: Yup, at least in terms of feeling satisfied with your life.
A study by Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics stated that life satisfaction peaks at 23, largely because people overestimate their future life satisfaction. As life kicks you around—as it is wont to do—your expectations drop and so does your life satisfaction, for decades until it craters in your mid-50s.
Then you’ll find yourself sidled with regret, knowing that most of your potential went to waste and that there isn’t time left to achieve much. Your house is small, your car is slow, your spouse is old. You've seen the moment of your greatness flicker, and you've seen the eternal Footman hold your coat and snicker.
But hey, cheer up! Because the study states that if you make it past the dark night of the soul of your mid-50s, your life satisfaction starts coming back—largely because a lifetime of failure and humiliation has finally taught you not to expect so much. By the time you retire and reach 69, people feel happy again. Each day is a blessing! Why, this thing called life, this grand mystery, how lucky you have been to simply take part!
Or maybe you just don’t have to go to work anymore and you can just put on white flannel trousers and walk along the beach.
The Daily Mail claims this U-shaped pattern was observed in over 50 nations and across class and financial divides. Apparently even the great apes can experience a mid-life crisis. It will be interesting to see if the Millennial generation, whose early twenties were crushed by the financial collapse and who will likely never be able to retire, will get to have that upswing at the end. Frankly, the end of Op-Ed pieces that shit on us for not driving cars enough (Wtf?) would cheer me up plenty.
Of course, this is just one study, with just one way of measuring life satisfaction, and these ages are just averages of several thousand people. You could be peaking right now! This could literally be the happiest that you'll ever be, so try to enjoy yourself. On the other hand another British survey found that people were happiest after shaking off that youthful naiveté and found that 33 was their halcyon year. So you've got that to look forward to, maybe. And if happiness is a huge concern, you might consider moving to Australia.
In any case, your later sixties will be nice! Hang in there, baby.