Happy Today and Tomorrow

As I write this on a beautiful and surprisingly dry summer day in Washington D.C., I am 26 years and 364 days old.  In less than 24 hours, I will officially be 27.  Will I feel any different when I wake up tomorrow morning?  Probably not.  Do I feel different than I did on my 18th birthday?  Oh, without a doubt, yes.  And contrary to the findings of a study published by the National Academy of Sciences, I feel happier and more satisfied than I did back at the ripe age of 18.  The study, led by Dr. Arthur A. Stone, surveyed over 300,000 people nationwide and asked them a variety of questions pertaining to life satisfaction and their overall well-being.  Additionally, survey participants were asked if they experienced any of the six feelings (enjoyment, happiness, stress, worry, anger and sadness) on the previous day.  Results were surprising and are described below:

On the global measure, people start out at age 18 feeling pretty good about themselves, and then, apparently, life begins to throw curve balls. They feel worse and worse until they hit 50. At that point, there is a sharp reversal, and people keep getting happier as they age. By the time they are 85, they are even more satisfied with themselves than they were at 18.

In measuring immediate well-being — yesterday’s emotional state — the researchers found that stress declines from age 22 onward, reaching its lowest point at 85. Worry stays fairly steady until 50, then sharply drops off. Anger decreases steadily from 18 on, and sadness rises to a peak at 50, declines to 73, then rises slightly again to 85. Enjoyment and happiness have similar curves: they both decrease gradually until we hit 50, rise steadily for the next 25 years, and then decline very slightly at the end, but they never again reach the low point of our early 50s.

Nicholas Bakalar, New York Times, “Happiness May Come With Age, Study Says”

Indeed, life does throw curve balls.  At 18, I was about to enter college and live away from home for the first time in my life.  I was enrolled in calculus, physics and engineering classes that were way over my head.  I survived and graduated.  A couple years later, I went to graduate school –  survived and graduated.  And now a few years short of a third decade, life still goes on and life still throws curve balls.  How we react to these uncertainties is the key.  I imagine that as we grow older, we become more comfortable and confident with ourselves enough that we can adapt to whatever life throws at us – wisdom of being experienced and older.   Our perspective grows and we become more at peace with our respective places in life.  We start enjoying the journey rather than focusing all our attention on the final endpoints.  So before I blow out my birthday candles tomorrow, I want to wish each of you a lifetime of good health & happiness, and to remember that though we may get older, the journey to good health & happiness is just as important as the final endpoint!

Ramon P. Llamas, MPH, CHES

View posts by Ramon P. Llamas, MPH, CHES
Ramon holds a Masters in Public Health degree with an emphasis on health promotion and health education from the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine and a BS in biological sciences and biomedical engineering from the University of California, Irvine. He is a member of the Men's Health Caucus of the American Public Health Association. His background includes health promotion at the US DHHS in Washington, DC and Director of Programs for Men's Health Network.
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