Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Mystery of Happiness

Surveys consistently show that Americans aged 65 or older are happier than younger adults. The 2010 General Social Survey, for example, found that 33 percent of people aged 65 or older were "very happy" compared with 28 percent of younger adults. The GSS measures happiness by asking a single, simple question. Other surveys probe people's feelings of happiness more extensively, by measuring it throughout the day and during a variety of activities. These studies confirm the greater happiness of older Americans. Why?

Entire books are devoted to this topic. One of them (Measuring the Subjective Well-Being of Nations: National Accounts of Time Use and Well-Being) solves the mystery.

To get at what makes people happy, well known Princeton economist Alan B. Krueger (the editor of the book) and author of one of the chapters (along with Daniel Kahneman, David Schkade, Norbert Schwarz, and Arthur A. Stone), measures the percentage of time in which people's feelings of sadness, stress, or pain exceed their feelings of happiness--all by demographic characteristic and activity. The results show that people aged 65 or older spend only 16 percent of their time with feelings of sadness, stress, or pain greater than their feelings of happiness. In contrast, people aged 25 to 64 feel bad rather than good a larger 20 percent of the time. By controlling for activity, the researchers nailed it: older Americans are happier because they spend more time engaging in activities that generate happiness (socializing, relaxing, gardening). Working-age adults must work, after all. Most of the happiness gap between older and younger adults is due to differences in their daily activities.


Diane Plesset, CMKBD, NCIDQ #13029, C.A.P.S. said...

I wasn't going to post, but I'm feeling ripped off by this article. There's no detail, and very little meat. Why bother writing two paragraphs with nothing useful in it.

Cheryl Russell said...

Click on the link to get to the meat.