Middle age brings many transitions – both menopausal and other types – that can affect overall happiness. Thanks to an AARP study, we now have a snapshot of what happiness looks like for older Americans.
Interestingly, the early 50s – which is when many women are still in the menopausal transition – is the lowest point of well-being for many Americans, even though 68 percent of Americans, age 35 and above, reported being happy to the study’s researchers. The data shows a U-shaped drop in happiness, beginning around the mid-40s. The lowest point in happiness tends to be between 51-54 when only 16 percent of respondents report being very happy. However, by the age of 66, 24 percent of respondents reported being “very happy.”
African-Americans reported the highest percentage (24 percent) of being very happy, followed by Hispanics at 23 percent. Nineteen percent of Asians said they were very happy while 18 percent of Caucasians described themselves in that way. The study also found that 30 percent of all respondents reported being “not too happy.” Hispanics (32 percent), African Americans (29 percent) and Caucasians (29 percent) described themselves in this manner. Twenty-six percent of Asians used this term to respond to their situation.
Women actually reported being happier than men. In fact, 21 percent of the women reported being very happy and 51 percent said they were pretty happy. Additionally, people with post-graduate degrees were the happiest, with 23 percent reporting being “very happy” and 52 percent being “pretty happy.”
AARP found that health, relationships and pleasure were the main factors in how respondents rated their happiness. These factors were followed by accomplishment, meaning, engagement – which were found to moderately important factors in happiness – and then time and money.
So let’s learn more about some of these factors:
- Health – “Interestingly, what may matter most is how healthy you think you are: The AARP found that the percentage of people reporting good health is relatively stable over the 35-80 age range, varying only seven percentage points,” The Huffington Post reported. “That's despite the fact that objectively, older people are in fact not as healthy: The number of people who report they are suffering two or more medical conditions increased 400 percent over the 35-80 age range.”
- Relationships – Sixty-eight percent of respondents described relationships as extremely important to happiness. Being in a relationship (whether married or not) caused 72 percent of people to describe themselves as very happy or pretty happy, whereas 60 percent of singles described themselves in these terms. Being with children, grandchildren, relatives, friends and pets also rated highly.
- Pleasure – Forty-seven percent rated pleasure as extremely important to happiness. These pleasures included enjoying nature, having someone do something nice unexpectedly, religious/spiritual faith, making progress on personal goals, and enjoying a hobby or interest.
- Accomplishment – Forty percent of the participants rated accomplishing a goal as extremely important to happiness.
- Money – AARP reports, “Income matters, but does not guarantee happiness. It becomes a resource which can be applied to meaningful areas of one’s life.” However, lack of financial resources is tied to unhappiness. Not too surprisingly, 43 percent of people who were not employed for pay described themselves as “not too happy” while people who were employed either in a full-time or part-time capacity described themselves as “pretty happy.” The study found that money was slightly more important for those people who earned $25,000. “The AARP study found similar results: Income and happiness were positively correlated; when comparing the percentage of those "Very Happy" by income ranges, the slope increases up to the $75,000 mark, then continued to rise even more dramatically,” The Huffington Post reported. “Asked how they would spend $100 on something to increase happiness, most respondents said they would spend it on their family or going out to dinner.”
So what’s the takeaway out of this study? Take care of your health (and be thankful if you’ve got good health). Appreciate your loved ones, stop and smell the roses, and celebrate your accomplishments. And know that money, while important, does not equate happiness.