Being Happy

by: Doug Michaelides

Anyone who reads The Economist, NewScientist or any other weekly magazine, is familiar with the holiday ritual of working through the pile of back issues that have sat unread over the past several months.

Perusing The Economist, an article caught my eye entitled “The U-bend of Life – Why, beyond middle age, people get happier as they get older”.  Apparently a variety of research indicates that we start out happy in our late teens, become progressively more unhappy into middle age, then get a lot happier again as we get old.  The results, corrected for income, country and education reveal a basic human condition:  people are least happy in their 40s and 50s.  We reach a nadir at a global average of 46 years old.   The good news is, after that, we have happier times to look forward to.

Coincidently, in the December 27th issue of NewScientist, I read about Ray Kurzweil, an IT guru, inventor and futurist.  He boldly predicts that if we can just make it to the year 2045, we’ll be able to live forever.  He envisions enhancing our bodies through biotech and nanotech then, ultimately transcending biology entirely by uploading the contents of our brain into a computer, or new body.  He’s already started extending his biological life through a regimen of a low-carb, calorie-restricted diet, exercise, lots of sleep and the ingestion of various vitamins and pharmaceuticals.  He claims that his test results show that he’s only gone from age 40 to 42 over the last 20 years.

I can only assume that since Mr. Kurzweil is doing his best to extend the years during which most of us are at our least happy, he’s hasn’t read the article in The Economist.  Or maybe he subscribes to Dogbert’s philosophy (stated as he tries to cheer-up a disillusioned Dilbert), “Happiness comes from comparing yourself to a reference group that is relatively worse off”.

Dogbert, misogynist that he is, then proceeds to inform Dilbert that he should be happy because he is a successful member of the reference group.  And that’s not nothing!

So what does this have to do with anything?  If you’re an HR manager, think about trying to maintain age diversity in your employee population, so you don’t end up with a company filled with middle-aged sad sacks.  And maybe help your employees with their New Year’s resolutions to live a fitter lifestyle by offering healthy food in the cafeteria and snack machines, or by encouraging staff jogging groups and subsidizing health club memberships.

And for all you middle-agers out there, ground down by the weight of your responsibilities at work and driven nuts by your teenagers at home, push through!  In a few years, the world will look like a better place.  In the meantime, you can either restrict your diet to 1500 calories a day and exercise like mad, or simply remind yourself that there are lots of less fortunate folks out there that wish they had what you already enjoy.

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