The Perfect Age for Happiness?

A recent article from TIME magazine claims that “People Aren’t Happiest Until They Reach 33.”  I thought this was a curious claim, and so decided to look further.  According to the article, a study by Friends United, a British social-networking site, “found that 70% of respondents over the age of 40 claimed they were not truly happy until they reached 33.”

But what does that mean?  And why?  Well, according to psychologist Donna Dawson:

The age of 33 is enough time to have shaken off childhood naivete and the wild scheming of teenaged years without losing the energy and enthusiasm of youth.

By this age innocence has been lost, but our sense of reality is mixed with a strong sense of hope, a ‘can do’ spirit, and a healthy belief in our own talents and abilities.

Can this be true?  And what if you are the age of 33, and haven’t shaken off “childhood naivete”?  Haven’t surpassed the “wild scheming” stage?  What does that say about you?

Certainly some innocence has been lost by this stage, but hopefully not all idealism.  All hope.  The article speaks of hope, and confidence in our abilities at this point.  Has anyone who is or has been 33 experienced that?

The article went on to recognize that only 16% of the survey’s respondents pined for their childhood, while (only) 6% said they were happiest in college.  I would have thought those numbers higher, particularly college.  I thought many people felt that was the happiest, most hopeful time in their lives: so much meaning, so much fun, so many possibilities.

Many respondents attributed happiness at 33 to fulfillment in their professional lives, “as well as having a support system of family and friends.”  It went on to mention (I thought strangely) “[n]ot surprisingly, 36% said they were happiest when they had children.”  If it’s not surprising, then why is the number not 100%?  I am kind of perplexed both by why the number is so high and why it is not lower.

Finally, more than half of survey takers who chose 33 as the magic number said they did so because “life at that age was more fun — probably because they had more money to enjoy it.”

For me this article created more questions than answers.  I would like to know a lot more about the ages of the people taking the survey.  Did they interview anyone under age 33?  Right at age 33?  Is 33 supposed to feel like the happiest time in your life as you are living it, or is it something you only recognize in retrospect?  And is it only going downhill from there, or once achieved, can you hope to then experience years and decades of abject happiness?

I liked being a kid.  I don’t know if I’d want to go back, but I miss it.  I loved college.  LOVED it!  But that’s my personality.  I’m an “anticipation” kind of person.  In college, I loved what I was doing and loved the possibility of where I was going.  I could find a lot of happiness in looking forward to something, and part of that happiness stemmed from not knowing exactly what that was going to be.

By 33, you are pretty much “there,” or well along that path.  So if you like where “there” is, and can get excited about being there, every day, for the next 50+ however many years, then yeah, I see how that could be your formula for happiness.  I just don’t know how realistic that is.

Also, I hope to never grow out of the “wild scheming” stage.  That, for me, is where the fun is.  The excitement.  I just have a hard time getting my head around a “hope” that things stay exactly as they are.  It seems like the only kind of true hope is that things keep getting better, and better, and better.  And if that necessitates change (which it probably does sometimes) then so be it.  Don’t get me wrong, I like what’s good in my life.  But the thought that this is as good as it is going to get is too much for me to handle.

How about you?  What is the magic age for happiness?  Anyone agree with 33?  What do you say?

9 thoughts on “The Perfect Age for Happiness?

  1. This could be a long comment, not sure.

    First of all, things never stay exactly as they are. Sometimes, things change outside of our control or we change them ourselves because we want/have to for our own happiness or those important to us. Change is a surety which thrills me.

    I believe we should always be mischievous and curious. If we grow out of the “wild scheming” stage, what keeps things fresh and engaging? Of course, there are boundaries of respectable behavior that need to be acknowledged so we must take care.

    Happiness, for me, has come in waves. I don’t get the #33 or that “you are pretty much “there”” by then. I wasn’t. My kids were young and wonderfully time consuming. However, there was absolutely no time for yourself. Most of my happiness is derived from being able to do the things I want/choose to do and back then, I found my choices to be very limited. My life wasn’t about me and that was okay so long as I imagined it to be a temporary thing. To think that time would be my happiest is a little depressing.

    I would say a happier time is when the kids get quite a bit older and you have more discretionary income to pursue your own interests without affecting the entire family. Sleep and funds make a huge difference and that all gets sorted out in your 40’s, IMO.

    There’s hope for all of us if we keep making our own fun!

    • Thanks for your comment, Gina. We welcome long comments. And unable to ever say anything succinctly myself, I certainly have no room to judge.

      I agree with your feelings about change. I like it and it makes things exciting. As for always being “mischievous and curious,” amen to that.

      I was particularly curious about this article because, as it happens, I am exactly 33, right now. So to think that I am or should be at my very happiest right in this very moment kind of had me freaking out. I’m glad to hear this isn’t the be all end all.

      As for “being pretty much ‘there’ ” I was there mainly speaking about career. Work-wise, I am a few years into my career, and have a pretty good picture of exactly what, barring drastic changes, the next 30 or 40 years worth of 8-10-12+ hour days are going to look like, for better or worse. I have kids too, but my interaction with them is limited to a couple of hours at night (if I am lucky).

      Because of them, I am not sleeping enough, and have virtually NO “me” time. Which I agree is essential to happiness. But I do cherish the time with them. Right now, more than any other time in my life, it feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day. So your comments give me hope.

      Like I said, I thought the article itself was very vague and left a lot of questions open. Just our little “discussion” here suggests that gender and specific circumstances could impact your answer hugely.

      I do want to say, it’s not that I am fundamentally unhappy at 33. But in ways, my life has been better at other times, and in ways, I hope it is better at future times. I think the real answer is to find and enjoy the happiness you can, when and where you can and, like you say, never stop making your own fun.

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

  2. You are really young!

    I can understand why you gave this so much thought being the age in question. I did not read “unhappiness” in your post but more wonderment re: what lies ahead. I’d be interested in the research backing up this article because I could talk to any number of people who would feel or have felt the same as you, including me.

    I understand now about the “being pretty much there” comment. 30-40 years is a long time and a lot of hours. It provides stability in your home which makes things smoother but at the expense of time shared with them. It gets better and easier, I promise!

    The sleep thing always got me and I was slightly kidding about them being “wonderfully time consuming”. There truly aren’t enough hours and when you find some extra time, our choices for fun sometimes end up on the bottom of the totem pole, at least in this house.

    Sometimes happiness falls right into your lap and, at others times, you have to go out and grab it. Look for the simple things.

      • I think everyone is an age in their head. That’s the age that matters.

        I’m glad you didn’t read unhappiness. I am not unhappy. I hope to always maintain that sense of wonderment and excitement for the future.

        And see, I thought your “wonderfully time consuming” was both funny and perfectly accurate. Because it is both. Having kids is fun, but also hard. It is fulfilling and rewarding, but also stressful and exhausting. I don’t know of anything else like it.

        I have experienced both kinds of happiness. And simple things do make me happy: a sunny day, a warm breeze, a thoughtful note, a friendly smile. Sometimes that’s all you need.

  3. First of all, I had a lovely dream last night that your sweet mother appeared in. 🙂

    Second, Gina’s first comment gives me a lot of hope. Bring on the 40’s!!! Only 5 years to go.

    So, my first thought was: this is a really dumb study. But maybe that’s harsh. In six months I will be 35. The age of 33 was definitely not the happiest time of MY life. In fact, at 33, I was in the midst of one of the harder times of my life (a time that I am still trying to sort out). The time that I loved the most was probably my college age days. The time when I left my parents home and finally started to bloom in many, many ways. I came alive during that time and I have many fond memories of those years. There was a lot of that excitement and anticipation you speak of.

    The single happiest day of my life was the day I got married. I was 2 months shy of 27. Before I married I had gotten to the point where I felt like I had really gotten to know myself, I had things figured out (or so I thought). After becoming a wife and especially since becoming a mother, I almost feel like I have had to go back and start all over. I don’t know what that says about me, or if others have felt the same way. I guess it’s a little complicated for me, but regardless, it has rocked my world. So, my hope is that I can get to that point again. Not that I am unhappy now, just a little unsettled. I know I’ll get there though.

    Age 33…nah

    • Oh, that’s nice. Thanks for sharing that with me.

      I agree. Gina’s comments make me very excited about the future.

      The study is not perfect, I will be the first to agree with you there. But I appreciate the idea of the study, if only because it created an opportunity for this discussion. Obviously, there are specific circumstances that could make any age particularly hard or particularly great. To put just one age on it, and try to apply it universally, is ambitious, but also kind of crazy.

      I loved college, as I mentioned, and you seemed to as well. But for me, there have been several of these periods of “coming into my own” / “self discovery.” I started very young. I can distinctly remember being 8, and feeling like “okay, I have a good grasp on the world and my place in it. I feel very comfortable with who I am.” The truth, of course, being that I had NO idea, either who I was or what was going on. But in that moment, I very much felt like I did. I had a very similar experience at 12, then again at 16, at 18, at 21, in my later 20s, at 30, and I feel like I am on the cusp of yet another one right now. It’s funny, because each time I really feel like “ok, yeah, NOW, I’m really there; NOW I really get it.” So far, I have not arrived at “the” there. But maybe that’s the point. Maybe there is no one “there.” And I’m okay with that. I think it’s a fun learning, growing, feeling process. I love it!

      You are not alone, DeAnne. I constantly feel like I am starting over from scratch. I like that, though. It’s never too late for a fresh start. Not to sound cheesy, but the more I experience in life, the more I realize the truth that happiness is a journey, not a destination. You’ve got to find a way to enjoy the ride, because the ride (with it’s ups and downs and detours and even crashes) is all there is. Sounds like you’re on the right track.

      Nice to hear from you. 🙂

  4. Hi! (I’m hopping over here from Trifecta). It’s nice to meet you. This was an interesting topic, indeed. Here are some of my thoughts.

    I feel like life, up to now, is divided into the following categories: childhood and young adulthood, single and married life, pre and post children. There’s that next stage of the empty-nest-ers and retirees, but I haven’t gotten there yet (smile). I can tell you that at every single one of these stages, I had been happy or unhappy, due to different circumstances. I loved college, but I also loved married life without children… until having children wasn’t such an easy thing. Now that I have two wonderful kids, everything seems to be just great. But the day to day life isn’t always easy.

    The study, remember, is from hindsight. It’s the people over 40 who are answering this. Hindsight is often filtered with wisdom as well as some memory loss! That stage of life definitely seems to be a part where stability, career, family is stable enough to see a good future. But beyond that, I think life still can be quite happy, if not happier. I am so much happier that I am sleeping now that the kids are bigger (if I’m not up trying to write Trifecta or my blog, that is, but that’s self-inflicted sleep deprivation). I am so happy the kids are more independent, and mature, and just growing up. I will probably be happier once I get back to work and actually make some real money. But that’s also said of the future without hindsight, so maybe ask me later.

    I recently posted a letter I wrote to a friend turning 40. Just a simple, short letter about our friendship and our aging-ness. At 30, life and health is at peak. Nearing 40, you start to feel the physical and mental part beginning to fade, which is sad. Anyway, if you’re interested, here it is on my main blog: http://letters-of-muse.blogspot.com/2012/03/dear-friend-turning-forty.html. One important thing I’ve noticed is that of my friends and husband who have turned 40, they are ALL still young at heart. They are still little kids inside, and maybe that is what keeps them happy.

    Anyway, I love reading other people blogs, especially the ones I found from Trifecta. However, there’s only so much time in the day! I knew this comment was going to be long, so I needed a chunk of time here. So don’t be discouraged about being 33. There’s a lot more life and happiness to be enjoyed, I can assure you of that. Maybe that poll was taken by disgruntled over-the-hill people who wished they were younger, who knows? But as someone who is embracing the knowledge and wisdom over the years, I actually quite look forward to what life has to bring me in the next stage.

    Think that’s enough for you to read now (smile). I’m having a hard time with the Trifecta prompt this week. May just have to skip it. I am certainly getting a little more sleep this week!

    • Sandra,

      Hi, nice to meet you! Trifecta is fun, and a great way to meet people. I’m with you: so many blogs, so little time.

      I did go to your link, and I thought your letter was very sweet. You are a good friend, and she is lucky to have you. I am sure you will enjoy many, many more happy celebrations together.

      I think you’re right; there are ups and downs to every age and stage. As long as the ups outweigh the downs, I guess there is nothing to complain about. I have enjoyed my past, love my present, and look forward to my future. And I will ALWAYS be young at heart!

      I was totally having a hard time with the Trifecta prompt too; nothing really jumped out at me. So I decided to just do something crazy and fun and outside my genre/comfort zone. If that sounds fun to you, then you should totally do it (you still have a couple hours). Otherwise, I look forward to more great stuff next week!

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