Now here’s something that I never quite expected to read. As detailed in this item at voxeu, just like humans, most great apes – our closest biological relatives – go through a midlife crisis and ultimately end up about as happy in old age as they were in childhood.
Happiness is approximately U-shaped across a person’s life. It has been known for more than two decades by behavioural scientists and wellbeing researchers that human happiness and mental health appear to follow a large, looping, U-shaped trajectory through the main part of people’s lives (cf. Feddersen, Metcalfe, and Wooden 2012). This statistical pattern has been found in dozens of countries.
- People as young adults start happy.
- Then comes a downhill patch for approximately two decades.
Both men and women go through their 40s at the lowest psychological ebb; the literal bottom usually hits around age 47 – so, sorry if that’s your next birthday.
- After mid-life, things look up.
People roar up the right-hand side of the U shape through their 50s and 60s. Contentment accelerates. The young just do not realise how enjoyable it is to be old (as long as you are in decent health).
Recent research has shown that great apes – chimpanzees and orangutans – are the same: the U shape in happiness is not exclusive to human beings.
I must have missed my midlife crisis. Of course, not having children (it seems they are somehow involved in the U-shape happiness curve noted above) and living like nomads when I would have probably had a midlife crisis (we moved five times during my 40s, always looking ahead to the next place) likely played a role in this.