We're happiest at 74: It's all downhill till 40, then life gets better, say scientists

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We’re happiest at 74: It’s all downhill till 40, then life gets better, say scientists

By Fiona Macrae Last updated at 4:35 PM on 23rd February 2010

It’s often said that your school days are your happiest. Others reckon that life begins at 40.

But it seems they’re all wrong – because according to scientists, we are most content only when we hit 74.

A combination of fewer responsibilities and financial worries and having more time to yourself produces a contentment unknown earlier in life, they say. An elderly couple dancing

Fun times: The study found that people in their fifties and sixties became more upbeat, with satisfaction peaking at a rating of 5.9 out of seven at around 74

The researchers have found that happiness starts to dip in the teenage years and continues on a downward spiral until the age of 40. It then levels off until about 46, before rising to a peak more than 30 years later.

German and American scientists analysed the results of a long-term British survey in which more than 21,000 men and women were regularly asked how happy they were with their lives.

They replied on a scale of one to seven, with one meaning they were not satisfied at all and seven indicating complete satisfaction.

Life satisfaction was rated about 5.5 when the subjects were in their late teens, on average.

This gradually dropped to about five when they turned 40. Overwhelmed couple looking at bills

Slump: People in their twenties and thirties are handling the stresses of buying a house and bringing up a family

Happiness hovered around this mark for the next few years, before taking an upturn around the age of 46.

And through their fifties and sixties they became more upbeat, with satisfaction peaking at a rating of 5.9 around 74. After that it drops off as more people become affected by health problems. The researchers said it was possible that people become more appreciative of what they have as they get older. They may find a desire to make the most of their remaining years, they added.

Writing in the journal Social Indicators Research, they said: ‘This awareness of impending mortality may lead older individuals to focus on ways to make their remaining experiences as enjoyable as possible.

‘Compared to younger individuals, older people tend to place a greater emphasis on emotional aspects of social interactions and are likely to remember the emotional content of their experiences.’ Enlarge Happiness / age graph

They added that as we get older, we may become better at keeping any negative emotions in check.

Those in their twenties and thirties, on the other hand, face the stresses and strains of buying a house, bringing up a family and forging a career.

But this happiness scale appears to be a peculiarly British phenomenon, the researchers from the German Institute for Economic Research found.

When they carried out a similar analysis of German men and women, they found that levels of satisfaction remained relatively stable throughout life.