Personal happiness can seem like an elusive concept to define or strive for, but it is nevertheless a question that has prompted much debate and research over the years.
Young people in the throes of puberty or navigating big life changes might look blankly at older generations who insist that "youth is wasted on the young".
In order to provide some more definitive answers to the question of when you are likely to be happiest in life, a team of researchers from European universities have conducted a comprehensive survey assessing how well-being evolves over the course of a lifespan.
The study, published in the academic journal Psychology Bulletin, is based on 443 samples from studies involving a total of 460,902 participants.
Life satisfaction was found to decrease between the ages of 9 and 16, then increase again slightly until the age of 70. After this point, life satisfaction decreased again until the age of 96.
"We focused on changes in three central components of subjective well-being. Life satisfaction, positive emotional states and negative emotional states," Susanne Bücker, an assistant professor at German Sport University Cologne who worked on the study, explained in a press release.
The report also showed that positive emotional states declined between the ages of 9 and 94. Negative emotional states fluctuated slightly between the ages of 9 and 22, then declined until age 60 before increasing once again.
Overall, the authors of the report identified greater median changes in positive and negative emotional states than in life satisfaction.
The study was undertaken by researchers from the German Sport University Cologne, Ruhr University Bochum, Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz and the Universities of Bern and Basel in Switzerland.
Why are certain ages associated with greater happiness?
Bücker, in summing up the results, explained that the survey indicated a positive trend over a wide period of life “if we look at life satisfaction and negative emotional states,” she said.
According to Bücker and her team, the decline in life satisfaction between the ages of 9 and 16 can be attributed to significant changes to the body and to social life that is often associated with puberty. Their findings indicated that life satisfaction rises again as teenagers move into young adulthood.
With regard to the decline in life satisfaction in very late adulthood from the age of 70, Bücker attributes this to the life changes associated with old age.
“This could be related to the fact that in very old people, physical performance decreases, health often deteriorates, and social contacts diminish; not least because their peers pass away,” she suggested.
The researchers conducted the survey in order to consider and promote well-being across lifespans.
Ultimately, the hope is that their research could guide the development of intervention programmes tailored to increasing life satisfaction and happiness, particularly for older people.