The Demographics of Happiness

Happiness is a very democratic emotion — it isn’t an emotion that’s available to only a certain group of individuals and not others. But there are some demographic characteristics that increase your chances of being happy.

Age and happiness

Age seems to increase a person’s overall likelihood of being happy. If you think that young people have the advantage here, you’re wrong. Most young people are happy to be sure, but research shows that you’re much more likely to experience happiness the older you get.

In one survey, 38 percent of respondents aged 68 to 77 reported feeling “very happy” as compared to only 28 percent of respondents between the ages of 18 and 27. This same survey showed a sharp increase in happiness scores beginning at age 45 and continuing into the mid-70s. (There was a similar decline in negative emotions with age.)

So, why do people tend to get happier as they get older?

  • Older people have reached a point of satiation in life. They’ve had a sufficient amount of success and positive experiences to feel both grateful and content. Younger people are on the way, but they’re not there yet.

  • Age alters a person’s expectations. Somewhere along the way, you realize that you don’t get everything you want out of life and that life never was meant to be perfect. If you want to be happy, you don’t have to like the way life is — you just have to accept that it is that way.

  • With age comes wisdom — a perspective that results from a combination of accumulated worldly experience and knowledge. This is not often seen as people muddle through the first half of life.

It’s no coincidence that the people interviewed were all between the ages 56 and 74.

Marital status and happiness

Marriage also seems to make a difference in people’s happiness. Married people, generally speaking, are happier than those who are unmarried. This is true for both men and women. Marriage is one of the meaningful social ties. Marriage brings coherence to people’s lives, gives them an opportunity to be less selfish, and allows them to tend and befriend those they love.

Although most of the research looks at happiness in married people, it’s probably fair to say that these same benefits would accrue from other types of committed, long-term relationships as well.

Not all partnerships are happy. There are several aspects of an intimate relationship that make for a happy couple. These include

  • Understanding that being in an intimate relationship means being your partner’s companion

  • Creating a sense of equity and parity in the relationship

  • Sharing interests, passion, and intimacy

  • Avoiding contempt even when angry

  • Practicing empathy

  • Saying the magic words: “I am sorry.”

Education level and happiness

The more education you have, the happier you’re likely to be. This may be an indirect effect of the positive relationship that education has on a person’s earning power, health, ability to cope with the stresses and strains of everyday life, and longevity. In short, education doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be happy, but it sure does increase your odds.

Sign up for a class or two at your local community college. You’ll be happy you did.

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