Women May Change Definition of Happiness at Mid-Life

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • It’s the holiday season and it seems like the advertising messages indicate that we all should be happy! However, many middle-age women describe experiencing emotional distress, mood swings and depression.

    It turns out that you’re not alone if you’re a middle-age woman who doesn’t feel that you’re currently happy. A recently published study found that happiness actually dips when men and women reach middle age. In this study, researchers analyzed four years of data from the Gallup World Poll, which surveyed participants from more than 160 countries. The analysis looked at the participants’ physical health and pain, feelings and moods, satisfaction with their lives, and judgments about the meaning and purpose of life. This study also found that happiness levels tended to bounce back for women in high-income English-speaking countries as they grew older but leveled off for women in Latin-America and the Caribbean.  The level of happiness continued to dip among women in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe as they aged. Women in sub-Saharan African countries had a slight dip, but overall reported a low level of happiness throughout their lives when compared to other parts of the world.

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    While some of the researchers in this study suggested that economics is behind this decline in happiness, I think the researchers missed some other key reasons – women during this time period are dealing with changing hormone levels, stress, body image, sexuality, infertility and aging.

    And I just saw another study that suggests that how we perceive happiness may actually shift as we age. In this study, researchers found that younger people associate happiness with excitement whereas those who are older increasingly associate happiness with peacefulness. This may be because younger people feel that they have a long life ahead of them and opt for novel opportunities and information. As we get older, we realize we have more limited time to live. Thus, researchers project that we are more likely to focus on current relationships that comfort us and help us remain peaceful.

    To study this shift, researchers analyzed more than 12 million postings that said “I feel” or “I am feeling” from four years of personal blogs written by people whose ages ranged from teen years to 50s. They found that younger bloggers identified excited happiness whereas bloggers who were in their 50s were twice as likely to talk about peaceful happiness. The researchers also surveyed 368 adults between the ages of 18-78. The data analysis found that survey participants who were in their teens and 20s linked happiness with feeling excited whereas participants who were 40 years of age and older linked happiness with feeling peaceful. As a third part of the study, researchers asked 74 adults between the ages of 18 and 25 to listen to versions of the five songs that were either exciting or peaceful. The researchers found that younger participants described being happier when listening to the exciting songs whereas older participants said they were happier when listening to the peaceful song. The researchers also conducted an online survey among 76 adults who were between the ages of 18-68. The survey analysis found that as participants got older, their focus increasingly moved to focusing on the present moment.

  • This research really suggests that as we age and go through the menopausal transition, we really should think deeply about our concept about happiness. For instance, what might have made you happy in your 20s may no longer give you those feelings now. Therefore, you may want to start shifting where you spend your time and energy so you can embrace those people, activities and things that truly bring you happiness at this stage of life.

    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

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    Mogilner, C., Kamvar, S. D., and Aaker, J. (2010). The shifting meaning of happiness. Social Psychological and Personality Sciences.

    North American Menopause Society. (ND). Depression & menopause.

    Roberts, M. (2014). Happiness ‘dips in midlife in the affluent West’. BBC.

Published On: November 29, 2014