Story at a glance

  • Middle age is no picnic, new research confirms.
  • An economist analyzed wellbeing across 132 countries and found that unhappiness peaks at midlife around 47.2 years old.
  • Fortunately for those who find themselves at or approaching this period of life, better days lay ahead as happiness increases continuously as we get older.

If you’re in your 40s and miserable, you might just be acting your age: Unhappiness peaks at 47.2 years old, according to new research

Economist David Blanchflower arrived at this downer of a figure by analyzing data on well-being from 132 countries. 

Blanchflower was surprised by the uniformity of his results: Life’s woes were greatest at 47.2 years old in the developed world and 48.2 years old in developing countries. 

Across all the places he studied, Blanchflower found people tend to experience a “happiness curve” that forms a U-shape over the course of their lives, with middle age acting as a tentpole of unhappiness that is bookended by happier times in childhood and old age. 

“The curve’s trajectory holds true in countries where the median wage is high and where it is not and where people tend to live longer and where they don’t,” Blanchflower wrote in the paper.

The study is mute on why 47 is such a bad year, but Blanchflower posits that it’s when pressure and anxiety from work and family hit their highest point, after which they begin to abate. As a result, happiness diminishes and later recovers.

For those who find themselves at life’s nadir of satisfaction, focusing on the golden years to come may offer some solace. “Once you get there, I think you get more realistic” Blanchflower told The Guardian, “and happier.”

Published on Jan 22, 2020