Friday, December 24, 2010

How Does Happiness Co-vary with Age and Why 46 Is a Tough Year

Sep Kamvar and Jonathan Harris are the creators of We Feel Fine. They have built a crawler that indexes the blogosphere to analyze occurrences of the phrases "I feel" and "I am feeling."

Every day, 15,000-20,000 blog posts are indexed and the system extracts, where possible, the authors' gender, age, country, state, and city. The net result is an incredible data set that helps understand the covariance between feelings and age, gender, weather, location, and season.

The analysis on age found the following "major emotional themes as we age.",
"We start simple (11-14), but soon fill up with angst (15-18) and feelings of confinement (19-22), until we leave those behind to go conquer the world (23-26), before gradually trading ambition for balance (27-30), developing an appreciation for our bodies (31-35) and our children (31-35), and evolving a sense of connectedness (36-40), for which we feel grateful (36-40), then happy (41-49), calm (41-49), and finally blessed (50+)."

Their analysis and amazingly cogent summary are truly fascinating. While the site is impressive, the authors also released a book, We Feel Fine: An Almanac of Human Emotion.

The data is increasingly the study of economists, who are looking to move beyond GDP per capita to a more satisfactory measure of human well-being.  The Economist recently published "The U-Bend of Life: Why, beyond middle age, people get happier as they get older."

The Economist study, noted in the graphic above, finds a different relationship between age and emotional well-being. For Arthur Stone, the nadir of life is 46 - this is a global average. A few explanations for the covariance between older people and happiness are listed in the article - the death of ambition, greater acceptance of oneself and setback, not being prone to anger, being more mindful of mortality and hence more present.

Between the two studies, we find that age materially impacts our well-being. While we are all unique, on average there are times in our life, or the lives of loved ones, when we must recognize larger forces at work on our psyche.

We are all familiar with teenage angst and the mid-life crisis, however, we can now see that all chapters in life come with a set of expected feelings and, thankfully, that as we age it will get better!!!

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