The Happiness Curve

By Desmond Yeoh SC

The Happiness CurveA 2008 study found that our happiness plotted against our age, shows a U-curve, with the lowest point, on average, at age 46 – in 55 of 80 countries. Life satisfaction statistics for the UK in 2014-15 show happiness declining from youth through middle age, hitting a low at 50 and rising to a peak at 70[1].

If we were to plot our desires against our age, my guess is that it would reflect a similar U-curve. As a child, we have few desires apart from play and parental love. As we progress on our careers and build a family, our desires multiply. We wish for promotions, recognition and success. We become envious of our peers who are more successful than us. We want to change the world to fit our expectations of how things should be. We need more security; much more than necessary. As our desires grow, we struggle more and more to achieve them; thinking that once we achieve those goals, we can rest and be happy.

Even those on the spiritual path may get caught up in this because they chase after spiritual experiences and psychic powers which they expect to bring recognition and even wealth. They expect these things to bring happiness but only feel disappointed when things do not go their way.

But then, when we reach middle age, we discover that we are no happier after achieving some of our desires. In fact, some of the achievements comes with problems attached.  We find that trying to meet our desires actually brings suffering because we have to sacrifice our time and health to achieve them. So we become more accepting of our situation and learn contentment. We become more at peace with ourselves and are able to smell the roses, so to speak.

Must we wait until we are middle aged before our happiness improves? Definitely not. If we can be contented with our situation and view whatever subsequent achievements as bonuses in our life, then we can immediately start to become happier day after day.

We just need to learn to let go of our desires. Letting go does not mean that we give away our job and all our material wealth. It is a state of mind whereby we become indifferent to whether or not we achieve our desires or continue to have what we have achieved. This state of mind can be achieving by contemplating on how much a human being truly needs to live a comfortable and contented life. I have had the opportunity to meet many friends who find happiness from living a simple life. We really do not need defer our happiness to a time in the future when we achieve all our desires. We can really have happiness now.

[1][1] Source: ‘The Happiness Curve’ by Jonathan Rauch

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