Have you ever heard or read about the U-curve of happiness? Researchers in human behavior and psychology have been testing people all over the world to determine, among other things, when people are the happiest. Interestingly, they have determined that we are happiest at both the beginning and the later years of life. We start out happy as children and young adults, steadily go downhill until the bottom of the U-curve, which covers one’s 40s and early 50s, and then gradually people feel better and happy again in their later years.
Maybe I am traveling with the wrong crowd but I don’t see all that much of what I would call happiness among the older folks I know. The best I can say is that in maturity most of us are accepting of our limitations and situations and are more or less contented. We have stopped expecting whiz bang, over the top days full of ecstasy. I actually know an awful lot of whiners and complainers as I believe I have written in a previous column. Where did they find these upbeat people they studied?
I wonder how they managed to weed out all the kids who had abusive childhoods or were affected by poverty and war? Surely they were not experiencing happy childhoods. On the other end of the spectrum, older folks with pain or chronic diseases and the people caring for them are not likely to be labeling these years as happiness-full. I suppose they must have exempted these cases from the study.
Leaving aside those caveats, the theory could make some sense. It might be another way to express the midlife existential crisis idea. Maturity teaches us that life is definitely not a bowl of cherries. Real life has plenty of ups and downs. The lowest points in the U-curve correspond more or less to the years people are raising children and striving to reach their potential in their jobs. As I recall, those were pretty busy, stress-filled years and not my own happiest moments. Dreams of glory tend to evaporate with age and experience.
Another offshoot of that study was one on money and happiness. They found that worldwide there was a point beyond which making more money did not positively affect happiness. Typically, people found that giving money away after a certain point felt better than stockpiling more. Of course, everyone does not have the same idea of when enough is enough, and we are not in that economic situation. However, the Aging in Place Initiative has been very fortunate to encounter a few local individuals and businesses that have been very generous to us. When he first opened his Green Mountain Storage facility on Route 9 West, Joseph Montano spontaneously offered to give us one of his units free of charge in order to house our medical equipment loan closet. We have been there for three years now and all his other units are filled. So, he is in the process of opening another one right around the corner on Haystack Road near the Chimney Hill office to accommodate the demand, and kindly letting us continue to store all the crutches, walkers, etc., free of charge.
Steve Butler, owner of North Star Pizza and Bowling on Route 100 has sheltered the Thursday morning men’s coffee hour free of charge for several years now in his Charlie Brown Conference Room. Every week at 8 am, a whole passel of guys meet there and settle the world’s problems for an hour. He also lets us use the room for our monthly meetings. What kind, generous folks we have here. Come to think of it, they do look happy. Maybe these researchers have a point.