the u-shaped graph

Samain                                                                                Moving Moon

Been thinking about the U shaped graph I’ve seen in recent articles about happiness. The graph follows feelings of happiness over a lifetime. During early childhood happiness is high according to the graph. Then somewhere around adolescence and continuing through  an individual’s working life happiness declines reaching a nadir in mid-career. After that the curve ticks up, implying of course that we’re happiest again when we die. Hmm. Probably not.

(graphic for an Economist article on this topic.)

My life experience so far seems to underwrite the broad concept. Specifically I’ve been wondering about that uptick in happiness (well-being, satisfaction)-I prefer the Greek,  eudaimonia, human-flourishing. Why does it happen?

Here are a few random ideas, not proven as far as I know.  We flourish when our life has recognizable limits. We’re always being told we can do anything we set our minds to, we can be anything we want to be. Maybe so, I don’t know.  I do know that the burden of  having to choose among competing futures can make the present seem fraught and burdened. One limit in the third phase is that of diminished prospects. We no longer have the career world and its vast horizons spread before us, nor do we have the energy, the ambition we had in that time of our life. Seems good to me. Narrowing down the future and its possibilities means a less fraught daily existence.

A second limit we encounter (most of us) in the third phase is financial. We know how much money we have and what we have to do to live within its possibilities and constraints. Again, I think, good. We’re not reaching, hoping for another raise, a windfall, a lucky break. No, we can settle into the life we can afford.

A third limit is length of life. We know now that life does not stretch on well beyond the horizon. Our friends and family have begun to get serious illnesses and die. Our own body has begun to signal its intention, too. Like the other two, narrowed prospects and financial constraints, at first this seems like a horror, an anathema to the American dream of excelsior. But I think good here, too. I want my obit to start out: Ate right, exercised, died anyway.

Acceptance of all three limits encourages us to focus on those matters dearest to us, most important in our lives. Does this mean that we have no hope for a productive life? No. It simply means that we’re likely much clearer about where to spend our energy and gifts. Does this mean we give up on managing our financial affairs? Again, no. It just means that they’re easier to manage and probably take up less energy. Does it mean we abandon caring for our health? Of course not. It means that we no longer do so with the illusion of eternal physical life as our reward for it.

Just random ideas. Not proven as far as I know.

This entry was posted in Aging, Quotes, Retirement, Third Phase. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.