The Happiness Curve: Why Life Gets Better After Midlife by Jonathan Rauch
“In a youth-obsessed culture, it may be difficult to convince some that life gets better after 50,” said Pamela Newkirk in The Washington Post. But all the evidence suggests that it does. Jonathan Rauch’s new book examines a series of “multi-country, big-data studies” on happiness conducted over the past few decades, which all reach the same conclusion: “life satisfaction is U-shaped, with contentment high in the 20s, plunging at mid-age and taking a turn for the better after 50”; it then peaks in the mid-60s. Not only that, but life expectancy has greatly increased, adding one or two decades to the most satisfying period of our lives. This knowledge, Rauch argues, should lead to a “societal reassessment” of our lives: people should no longer assume that their best years are behind them at 50. The Happiness Curve presents a “fresh and reassuring vision of ageing”, underpinned by “compelling scholarship”.
The phrase “midlife crisis” was coined by the Canadian psychoanalyst Elliott Jaques in 1965, said Emma Jacobs in the Financial Times. Rauch suggests that it is not so much a crisis as a “protracted malaise”: a transition period, much like puberty, during which the gap between expectation and reality closes, and we become wiser and more interested in helping others. He notes that the well-being of apes seems to follow a similar path, said Damian Whitworth in The Times. Underlying it all, he finds, is an evolutionary pattern: it makes sense for us to be competitive strivers when young; then, after the parenting years, to do less egocentric things for the good of the group. Despite occasional lapses into “earnest happy-speak”, this “absorbing” book is to be welcomed. Rauch’s advice is sound. “Hunker down through the slump years... Life begins at 50.”