BOCHUM, Germany — Is childhood really the happiest period of a person’s life? A new study finds you might have to wait a while to really find the bright side of life. A team of international researchers has found that a child’s life satisfaction actually decreases between the ages of nine and 16 — before rising up and peaking at the age of 70!
During this project, study authors examined the subjective well-being over the entire lifespans of 460,902 participants. From that group, they studied 443 samples that described how people felt about themselves during childhood, young adulthood, and eventually old age.
“We focused on changes in three central components of subjective well-being,” explains Professor Susanne Bücker, who initially worked on the study at Ruhr University Bochum before moving to the German Sport University Cologne, in a media release. “Life satisfaction, positive emotional states and negative emotional states.”
Happiness varies from person to person
While everyone’s journey to happiness is obviously a very personal experience, the researchers did find a number of trends throughout the average person’s life. Overall, children saw their life satisfaction drop off during adolescence, declining from age nine to 16. Life satisfaction then increased “slightly” until the age of 70, when it dropped off again until the age of 96.
Meanwhile, positive emotional states continued to decline from age nine all the way to age 94. There was a little fluctuation between the ages of nine and 22, but it then kept declining until age 60.
“Overall, the study indicated a positive trend over a wide period of life, if we look at life satisfaction and negative emotional states,” Bücker reports.
Why does happiness drop off so quickly in life?
Study authors believe the decline in life satisfaction starting at age nine has a lot to do with the body changes and social life shifts that often take place during puberty. They believe the rise in life satisfaction from young adulthood onwards backs this up.
As for the decline later in life after age 70, the researchers note that subjective well-being tends to worsen during old age for several unavoidable reasons.
“This could be related to the fact that in very old people, physical performance decreases, health often deteriorates, and social contacts diminish; not least because their peers pass away,” Bücker says.
Researchers say their findings could provide new guidance for the development of well-being programs, especially those aimed at maintaining or improving happiness later in life.
The research team included scientists from the German Sport University Cologne, Ruhr University Bochum, Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, and the universities of Bern and Basel in Switzerland.
The findings are published in the Psychological Bulletin.