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By Jean Twenge

Our findings, published on Thursday in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, were startling, revealing a pattern that doesn’t fit with conventional wisdom on age and happiness. Past research has found that people grow steadily happier as they age from adolescence to older adulthood, with happiness peaking when people reach their 60s and 70s; the moodiness of youth subsides, and maturity brings more contentment. But our analysis found that this was no longer true: In the last five years, the once-reliable correlation between age and happiness among adults has vanished. Adults 30 and over are less happy than they used to be, while, teens and young adults are happier; in fact, adults over 30 are no longer happier than their younger counterparts. It seems that mature adults’ happiness has waned, while young people’s happiness has flourished.

One reason for this shift may be a collective rise in how well Americans expect their lives to go. Happiness is sometimes defined as reality divided by expectations: One study, for example, found that the amount of a monetary payoff after a game didn’t matter for players’ happiness—what mattered was whether the dollar amount was more or less than they study instructions had led them to expect. According to the large national surveys we analyzed, 64 percent of today’s high-school students expect to be a manager or a professional by age 30, up from 48 percent in 1976—but the number of people who actually go on to attain these jobs has held steady at about 18 percent since the 1970s.

Continue reading:  Young People Are Happier Than They Used to Be

Commentary by The Secular Jurist:  This study seems to suggest a growing disconnect between young peoples’ objective awareness and the new economic realities which await them.

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6 thoughts on “Long-term trends in Happiness are shifting in America

  1. I’ve recently finished reading “Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way” by Dan Buettner, which is a study of the world’s happiest people (funded by National Geographic). It finds that the world’s happiest people are in Denmark. The Danes know that their taxes are high, but they accept it because they can see what kind of society they have, and it is good.

  2. We also have to consider that creeping concerns for environmental degradation are nibbling away at our perceived prospects. They’ve taken a chunk out of mine anyway.

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