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Middle Age a Low Point for Most
Date:1/30/2008

omen hit their nadir around the age of 40.

The researchers cautioned that cheerful people tend to live longer than unhappy people -- a fact that might have skewed the overall finding. But they also suggested that evidence of a happiness curve might simply reflect a midlife choice to give up long-held but no longer tenable aspirations, followed by a senior's sense of gratitude for having successfully endured while others did not.

"That said, some might find it helpful simply to understand the general trends of mental health as they go through their own life," said Oswald. "It might be useful for people to realize that if they are low in their 40s that this is normal. It is not exceptional. And just knowing this might help."

Dr. James S. Goodwin, director of the Sealy Center on Aging at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, agreed, suggesting that the finding is a testament to the notion of the value of age and experience.

"It's a very hard lesson for us to learn that happiness is not tied to the things, such as wealth, that we think it's tied to," he noted. "At the same time, there's no doubt in my mind that wisdom and knowledge increase with age, and that just gives older people more control over their lives. A lack of control, like someone in midlife worrying about their teenage kids going out for a drive, is the cause of a lot of distress. But usually that does go away. Eventually. And what replaces it is experience with how to control your temper, deal with grief, cope with intimidation. And that knowledge can lead to a more positive outlook. And greater happiness."

More information

For more on depression, visit the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health.



SOURCES: Andrew J. Oswald, Ph.D., professor, economics, department of economics,
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