Harvard Mental Health Letter

In Brief: Study suggests there is a silver lining to the "golden" years

With age comes wisdom — and perhaps happiness, according to a national survey to assess psychological well-being in Americans. The study adds to previous research suggesting that people tend to become happier as they age.

In 2008, interviewers from the Gallup Organization conducted a telephone survey of more than 340,000 American adults ages 18 to 85. In addition to asking questions about age, relationship status, health, and income, the interviewers asked respondents to rank their overall life satisfaction on a scale of one to 10. They also asked questions about whether participants experienced specific emotions, such as happiness, sadness, anger, stress, and worry, on the day before the interview. The researchers then tabulated results by three-year age ranges (such as 18 to 21).

Obviously this sort of survey was not designed to probe deeply into the psychology of Americans, but it produced an interesting time-lapse portrait. The survey results suggest that middle age — in particular ages 50 to 53 — represents a psychological turning point for Americans.

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