Researchers in the United States and Western Europe have discovered a "Happiness U-Curve," in which the happiness we enjoy in the early and later decades of our life plummets (to the bottom of the curve) in our mid-40s. But we don't have to suffer through this statistical low point if we take control of our time, stress levels and life/work balance.
Analyzing data on two million people in 80 countries, economists at the University of Warwick in England and Dartmouth College in the United States found a consistent pattern as we age to the highs and lows we reach on the happiness scale.
They reported in the journal Social Science & Medicine this year that our levels of happiness are higher in our younger and older years, but that our level of happiness tends to hit bottom in our mid-40s — regardless of gender or geography. The authors, economists Andrew Oswald of the University of Warwick and David Blanchflower of Dartmouth College, can't pinpoint the "why" behind the U-curve's consistency among such diverse populations; only that it exists.
But we can take control of our own Happiness Curve by taking pro-active steps that will keep our life/work balance tipped toward the upper reaches of that curve.
6 Ways to Take Control of Your Happiness Curve
Make time to be happy. In this time-crunched economy, in which we work longer hours and spend less time relaxing, it's vital to create more hours each day to be happy. It's all a matter of smarter time management skills. Where to begin? Make a record of how you spend each hour of each day for one week. At the end of the week, circle your time-wasters and eliminate them, one by one. Spend only scheduled times of the day to answer e-mails and telephone calls. If you spent only ten minutes each day getting your papers organized, you create hours for other tasks during your week. Every week, vow to win back a new hour to set aside just for you.
Simplify. Simplify your life by ridding yourself of the possessions that lead to more work than joy. If you spend more time organizing paperwork, go paperless by storing files on disks in one simple location. If you spend more time cleaning and re-arranging household items, rid yourself of those extra sets of clothes, dishes, furniture and other household items that aren't necessary. It's that simple.
Energize. If you find yourself too exhausted to be happy, then energize with a healthier diet and a regular dose of exercise. There are alternatives to jogging if you consider it boring? Then dance. Can't find time for friends who make you laugh? You can send out an invitation for a healthy dinner or for taking a stroll with them once a week. Incorporate what makes you happy into your schedule for a life-energizing diet and exercise.
Avoid stress instigators. We're here in life to learn, and one of those learnings is to figure out what makes for unhappy stress. It's a way to eliminate them. Avoid or minimize time spent with stress-instigating workers, clients, acquaintances and family members. Practice taking deep breaths and slowly exhaling when you are in stressful situations that can't be avoided to calm you through these episodes.
Recognize U-Curve triggers. The statistics around the Happiness U-Curve don't manifest the same way in every individual. If you recognize what is causing your unhappiness, you can avoid the bottom of the curve by taking pro-active steps. Are you feeling dissatisfied with your achievements at work or in your personal endeavors? Make a list celebrating the achievements you have made. Even the smallest achievements quickly can add up when you write them down, one by one, once a week. Writing down achievements in a daily diary can keep the thought alive and become a great way to strategize for more successes to keep you happy.
Prioritize your happiness. Write 'Happiness" at the top of this week's task list. Next to the word, visualize what makes you happy and pencil it in, just as you would an important meeting with a client or a crucial household chore. When you know for a fact that you're happier with certain people over others, schedule time to be with those who make you happier. If a hobby or just spending time being lazy makes you happy, add that time to your schedule.