Key Factors in Defining Happiness

If you miss out on happiness in your 30s you could have another chance in your 60s, according to an AARP survey.

Graphs from AARP’s “Beyond Happiness: Thriving” report

Although most Americans age 35 years and older are happy, the drag of the economy has pulled happiness to its lowest levels, according to a survey by AARP.

In “Beyond Happiness: Thriving,” AARP takes a look at how happiness and what affects it changes over time as people age. According to the results, the chart of happiness is a U-shaped graph, with people happiest in their 30s and then again in their 60s.

“We’re always looking to get a more robust understanding of the contributors and barriers to happiness in people’s lives,” Steve Cone, executive vice president of Integrated Value Strategy, AARP, said in a statement. “Building on previous AARP research, which shows the importance of happiness and peace of mind to 50-plus families, these new results affirm that we are on the right track — advocating to ensure basic health and financial security and making available everyday discounts that let people enjoy time with family and friends.”

Overall, 68% of respondents reported being happy, and nearly a third (31%) believe that they are happier than others. However, looking to the next generation, AARP reported that they are less happy, with only 45% saying they will be as happy or more.

The four main drivers of happiness are relationships, health, control and money. For relationships, it doesn’t matter whether it was with friends, family or pets. For women, singles and older individuals, relationships with pets were very important —

the groups with the highest percent

reporting that spending time with a pet contributed to personal happiness were

women ages 66 to 80 and widows.

For health, the state of mind was more important than reality. AARP reported that the percentage of respondents who said they were in good health was relatively stable over the 35 to 80 age range. However, reported chronic or serious medical conditions increase 400% for that range. Those people who say they are in “good or excellent” health are three times more likely to report being very happy.

People really cherish the idea of being able to control their own destinies and that stands true for happiness. According to the survey, as people age, the sense of control over their personal level of happiness increased. Those feel they are in control were two-and-a-half times happier than those who thought happiness was out of their control.

A sense of control over happiness was linked to higher income, higher education, good health and the lack of having experienced a major life event in the past year.

Although money contributed to happiness, it was more important how one spent money. Less than a third of respondents said money contributed to happiness, and when asked how they would spend $100, most chose to spend it on family or going out to dinner. So while happiness increases with income, it is important in its ability to be applied to the meaningful areas of one’s life.

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