In attempting to explain what’s behind what is known as the “U-shape” of human well-being, Schwandt analyzed data from the German Socio-Economic Panel, which measures 23,000 respondents’ current life satisfaction and their expectations about their life satisfaction in five years’ time.
He found that the respondents had large forecasting errors, ranging from a 9.8 per cent overestimation of future life satisfaction at age 21 to a 4.5 per cent underestimation at age 68.
What goes up must come down: after our early twenties, happiness declines on the way to our mid-fifties; then, after cycling back up through our late sixties, it falls again once we reach 75. If you’re having a midlife crisis — brooding over life choices and unfulfilled ambitions — buck up, better days are coming: the turnaround point is 55, according to the study, at which point happiness starts climbing once more (though that second harder turnaround after 75 sounds a little ominous).
“People in their 50s could learn a little from the elderly, who generally feel less regret. They should try not to be frustrated with their unmet expectations because they are probably not feeling much worse than their peers,” Schwandt said.