If you've made it through your 40s without suddenly acquiring a blood red convertible, piercings, or a skydiving habit, you might have wondered whether you were the only one to miss out on that much-vaunted midlife crisis. And you'd be right to wonder, according to researchers at the University of Alberta, who write in Developmental Psychology that in fact happiness appears to curve upward, not down, as people age from their teens into their 40s. "I do think that midlife crisis is a myth," psychologist Nancy Galambos tells the CBC. "The results [of the paper] question the myth." The team followed two groups: high school seniors from 18 to 43 and college seniors from ages 23 to 37, and asked both a simple question: "How happy are you with your life right now?" Among both cohorts happiness levels rose into their 30s, and while it dropped by age 43 for high school students, people were still happier in their 40s than in their teens.
The methodology was important, says one researcher, because "if you want to see how people change as they get older, you have to measure the same individuals over time." The researchers found a link between a rise in happiness and good physical health and marriage, and a drop in happiness during times of unemployment. "If I’m divorced and unemployed, and I have poor health at age 43, I’m not going to be happier than I was at age 18," Galambos says. "It’s important to recognize the diversity of experiences as people move across life." Galambos emphasizes that happiness hits not only the individual level: "We want people to be happier so that they have an easier life trajectory," she says, but also because "they cost less to the health system, and society." (Check out what seems to be keeping married seniors so happy.)