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Study Reveals Happiest Time of Your Life

Update Date: Feb 06, 2013 03:22 PM EST
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It may seem to some people that old age will be miserable. After all, the risk for a number of diseases and conditions, like heart disease, dementia and overall frailty, increases with the years. Similarly, it might appear that childhood was generally the best time of your life. However, the evidence appears that your well-being will not suffer in your advanced age. In fact, researchers found that happiness increases with age.

The study was conducted by researchers from the National Institute on Aging, Florida State University and the VU University Medical Center in the Netherlands. The researchers hypothesized that people born in the same year would have similar levels of happiness. They figured that people born at around the same time - a "birth cohort" - would be more likely to have similar unique experiences that would shape their outlook on life and their attitudes.

The researchers looked at two longitudinal studies that analyzed the well-being and other factors of thousands of people over the course of 30 years. At first, researchers saw what we might expect: that older individuals had lower happiness levels than younger people. That may seem fitting, considering that younger people would be expected to have stronger relationships and health than their older counterparts.

However, when researchers broke it down by age, they were surprised. Even when controlling for various factors, like education, ethnicity, health, medication and sex, they found that satisfaction with life increased with age.

Those results may seem to be contradictory, but researchers found that they were not. For older people, especially those who were born between 1885 and 1925, they started with levels of well-being well below subsequent generations. These individuals would have likely grown up during times of more significant upheaval and less prosperity, like the Great Depression. As the twentieth century, subsequent generations would have access to better educations, more social programs and more prosperity - meaning that they would have started out their lives happier, in turn.

Previous studies that looked at happiness searched at the correlation between well-being and career success, relationship outcomes and health.

The findings may have particular implications for members of Generation Y, also known as the Millennials, and the generations that come afterward. "As young adults today enter a stagnant workforce, the challenges of high unemployment may have implications for their well-being that long outlast the period of joblessness," study author Angelina Sutin said in a statement. Economic turmoil may impede psychological, as well as financial, growth even decades after times get better."

The study was published in the journal Psychological Science.

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