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The Age Well-being Connection


According to Professor of Economics David Blanchflower this week, middle age is miserable! My ears perked up at this, following considerable teasing of my husband who turns 45 on Saturday… half way through the decade to 50! I shouldn’t be so flippant being only 6 months behind! But it turns out we’re ok as we have a couple more years until we reach the peak of unhappiness at 47.2.


This study of 132 developed countries looks at the relationship between wellbeing and age and Blanchflower concludes that we have a U-shaped ‘happiness curve’. For the UK, he analysed data from Annual Population Surveys to examine statistics for people aged 70 and under for 2016-18. This was based on the question, ‘Overall, how satisfied are you with your life nowadays? where 0 is ‘not at all satisfied’ and 10 is ‘completely satisfied’.


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Professor Blanchflower explained that the 2008 financial crisis triggered a breakdown of community and social connectivity. The dip (average age of misery) “Could be linked to a breakdown in social relations that come with middle age such as marriages coming to an end, women having children out of wedlock… that social backup is not there anymore.” This is particularly relevant at a time when we are aware of the importance of mental health.


I invite you to consider how you feel about this? I’ve always advocated that the forties is fabulous – we have more income, established friends and a often a clearer sense of who we are and where we’re heading. And our kids are becoming more independent and so we can begin to put our own needs higher up the agenda. But maybe I’ve been disillusioned by my own experience, for which I’m very grateful, and that of my friends?


And what do we do with this finding? No doubt for some, this will give them the evidence to back up the expectation of a mid-life crisis. There is a very real sense of doom for those people when they turn 40 and expect life to take a dip. Or, you can take the insight and arm yourself in preparation. Give yourself an emotional health check. Taking time to nurture meaningful connections, reflect on what you do that gives you a sense of meaning and purpose in life, recognising what you do have that you’re grateful for and nurturing what you’re passionate and feel good about improves your resilience and sense of status.


Your approach to your forties and mid-life is akin to you choosing your path. That’s not to say it won’t be bumpy at times and that it won’t be without its challenges but look at this decade as a time to get yourself in the best place to enjoy the rest of your life to its full potential. Be mindful that what you expect is more likely to become a reality (a self-fulfilling prophecy) and about how you attribute what actually happens.

‘Is happiness U-shaped everywhere?’

published 13 January 2020

National Bureau for Economic Research (NBER)

For more information about emotional health checks and wellbeing, drop me a line lisa@itstimeforchange.co.uk