How I Hacked The Happiness Curve

How I hacked the happiness curveRecently, I wrote 7 Money Goals to Hit by 45. Check it out if you haven’t read it yet. You can see if you’re a successful adult as you approach midlife. The comments are really interesting, though. Several older readers commented that they are happier now in their 50s, 60s, and beyond. I vaguely recall hearing something about this phenomenon on NPR. Ah, yes. Our readers are experiencing “The Happiness Curve.” It seems most people become happier as they age. Seriously? I’ll be happier as I get older? Sign me up.

Have you heard of the Happiness Curve? Basically, most of us start off with a carefree childhood, become less happy as we accumulate more responsibilities, bottom out in midlife, and begin to come out of the funk in our 50s. Life gets better from there. Here is the curve.

The Happiness Curve

Of course, not everyone goes through the same thing in life. We all have our ups and downs, but the curve looks like this once you filter out the noise and aggregate the data.

To be clear, the happiness we’re talking about here is life satisfaction. It is how you feel about life in general. We’re not talking about the short-term happiness of finding a $20 bill on the sidewalk. That will give you a little spike, but it doesn’t last.

The Happiness Curve

The Happiness CurveThere is a whole book on this. Jonathan Rauch’s The Happiness Curve. I got it on Kindle (via the library) and speed read through the book so I can write this follow up. The book was a bit tedious for me because I disagree with some of their findings. Here is my CliffsNotes version.

  • Most of us have a very high expectation of ourselves when we were young. As we hit our 40s, we realize that we aren’t going to change the world after all. This is a bitter pill to swallow.
  • Even if you’re successful, there will be some people who are more successful. Comparing yourself to others will make you feel down about yourself. Also, successes make you hunger for more so you keep pushing yourself.
  • Midlife is usually the most stressful time in your life. You’ve got a litany of big problems to worry about – career, kids, aging parents, marriage, money, friendship, health, and more. It’s a big change from the relatively low-stress 20s.
  • Knowing about this U curve shape isn’t going to help you feel better or improve anything. Struggling against the discontentment will just make you feel worse.
  • People become happier in their 50s because they are more accepting. We realize how lucky we are, struggle less, and embrace our lives. The stress also let up as the kids grow up, careers peter out, and we become more financially secure. Apparently, older people are better at not caring what other people think as well.
  • The way through the Happiness Curve is to be patient and stay the course. You’ll become happier as you age.

The last point is what I disagree with the most. I strongly prefer action to inaction. And it worked out very well for me. However, I realize that I could be an outlier. Most people might be better off to just wait it out.

Anyway, the book isn’t bad. It just seems like it could be a lot shorter. (I was in a hurry to get through it.) It’s a good read if you’re in the middle age funk. Check it out from your library or splurge on Amazon with my link – The Happiness Curve: Why Life Gets Better After 50.

My Happiness Curve

This chart should really be called The Life Satisfaction Curve. But, that’s not as catchy. Oh well, let’s go with happiness. Here is my happiness curve.

Joe's Happiness Curve

  • Childhood: I had a happy childhood. I had 2 brothers and lots of cousins in Thailand. Kids were able to be kids in those days and it was great.
  • Teenage years: We immigrated to the US when I was 12. High school was tough for me because I didn’t really fit in. We moved a lot so I didn’t have any close friends. College was a lot better, but the engineering classes were overwhelming. The engineering students were stressed out all the time. My happiness level dipped in my teenage years quite a bit.
  • 20s: Yes! I finally started making a good income and I had lots of friends. My early 20s was great and I had a ton of fun.
  • Early 30s: My 30s was okay. By this time, I was married, owned a house, and worked in a stressful job. That’s life as an adult.
  • Late 30s: I became very dissatisfied with my engineering career. It wasn’t a good fit anymore and my happiness level cratered. This somewhat coincides with our son’s birth. I love RB40Jr, but a baby is a huge stressor.

Jonathan Rauch recommends being patient and waiting it out. That’s what he did and he became happier in his 50s. However, I chose to make a drastic change and retired early when I was 38. My happiness level improved immediately and it kept going up. My corporate job was the biggest stressor in my life. Getting out of the rat race made me a much happier guy.

  • 40s: I’m turning 45 soon so I’m just halfway through my 40s. There is a small dip in happiness level right now because we’re dealing with a big adversity at home. We’re taking some action to remedy the situation so I think I’ll get back to 8 soon. Life is still pretty good even with this problem.
  • Forecast in 50s: The 50s looks rosy to me. We’ll have less stress as RB40Jr moves out and Mrs. RB40 retires. I plan to travel more and reconnect with friends. It should be a good period for us as long as we’re healthy. I’m forecasting a 9 as I approach my 60th. That’s a long way off so, who knows?

Joe vs the US

Here is my happiness curve vs the average American’s happiness curve. Most countries have similar u shape curve, but there are subtle differences. The whole curve is higher for Norway, for example. We’ll just focus on the US because we live here.

Joe vs the US

My happiness level dipped below the u curve a couple of times, but I’m out of trough now in my 40s. While most people my age are struggling through the midlife discontent, I am done with it. My life satisfaction level is very high and I’m positive it will keep increasing. If my forecast comes true, then I’ll spend a lot more years being happier than the average American. Here is where calculus would come in handy. All I remember is that you can use calculus to figure out the area under the curves. I’m not great at math anymore, but my eyeballs tell me that I’ll come out way ahead.

This is where Jonathan Rauch and all the researchers got it wrong. I don’t think you have to be patient and just wait for things to get better? No way. There must be some ways to hack the happiness curve. Here is how I did it.

Hacking the Happiness Curve

My regular readers see this coming from a mile away. The answer is FIRE, of course. That’s financial independence & retire early for the uninitiated. Here are the reasons why FIRE is the key to hacking the happiness curve.

Ignoring the Joneses

One crucial step in the FIRE movement is to ignore the Joneses. That’s the only way to save a significant percentage of your income. Regular people have a really hard time with this. When they see the Joneses driving around in a new Tesla, they feel the urge to upgrade their vehicle too. It’s a vicious cycle. However, I learned how to ignore the Joneses years ago. I had a bigger goal to shoot for, early retirement.

This is our first edge over the regular people. We had to figure out how to stop comparing ourselves to others financially. We boosted our saving rate so we could invest more. It’s pretty much impossible to achieve financial independence if you can’t ignore the Joneses. There is always someone in the neighborhood that lives a flashier lifestyle than you do.

Comparing yourself to others professionally

Finance isn’t the only component, though. Middle age folks make themselves dissatisfied with life by comparing their professional accomplishment with others. I’m sure you did that at some point too. I used to look around at work and envy the more accomplished engineers. They were doing innovative work, getting promotions, collecting awards, and spend 80 hours/week at the office. The corporate environment is designed to do this. They want the employees to compete with each other and work harder. You’re supposed to feel bad if you’re not the superstar. Of course, there are only a few superstars so most of us fall into the envious category.

Once I quit the corporate environment, all of that went away. Now, I’m not jealous of my former coworkers at all. I live an awesome life even if I don’t make as much money. Early retirement helped me take a step back and stop pursuing the next mission. I’m free from ambition.

Stress reduction

Life in the 40s is like living in a castle under siege. You’re under attack from all directions and they grind you down. For me, the biggest source of stress was my engineering career. Once I achieved financial independence and retired early, all the career related stress disappeared. I still had other problems, but I had more time to deal with them.

  • Health – My physical and mental health improved significantly since I retired. The stressful and sedentary corporate lifestyle screwed up my health.
  • Kid – I was able to spend a lot more time with RB40Jr after retirement. Being a stay-at-home dad has been a great experience for both of us.
  • Marriage – My marriage improved. I have time to cook, do household chores, and run errands. Our relationship is better because I’m not stressed out all the time.
  • Money – We’re doing well financially. I saved and invested in my youth and it is paying off now.
  • Aging parents – This is the tough one. Some of my friends are going through a similar challenge in their 40s. At least I have time to help my mom. It would have been a lot more difficult if I was still working full-time.

I estimate that 80% of my stress disappeared after I retired. Early retirement has been really good for me.

Develop a thick skin

One reason why older people are happier is because they don’t care what other people say about them. I think running a blog really helped me develop a thicker skin. People can be vicious when they are anonymous. I’ve seen all kind of nasty comments and I learned how to let it roll off my back. Now, I don’t even care what people say about me. Blogging is a short cut to develop that attitude. I just focus on doing my own thing and ignore what other people say.

Starting a blog is a great way to build your brand and generate some extra income. You can see my tutorial – How to Start A Blog and Why You Should. Check it out if you’re thinking about blogging. 

Gratitude

At some point, people start to feel thankful for what they have and focus less on others. This feeling of gratitude comes with age, apparently. However, there is another way to be grateful when you’re young.

The pit of doom happiness curve

See the pit of doom here? I was in a bad place in my late 30s. I’m a happy go lucky guy and being in the pit of doom runs contrary to my natural state. Once I got out of the pit of doom, I feel very grateful. Every day that’s better than that is a good day. My life is full of good days now. I’m very thankful for everything I have.

I think most people never had to descend into the pit of doom for an extended period of time. Their lives are more stable. It’s hard to feel grateful if you don’t have a difficult personal experience for comparison.

Also, I think I’m very lucky to climb out of the pit of doom relatively quickly. Some people who descended into darkness had a really difficult time escaping it. They take up drinking and other vices. Those bad habits will make it much harder to escape the pit of doom. I had lots of things in my favor to help me improve. The FIRE community, my frugal lifestyle, my family, and friends are just some of the things I’m grateful for.

Autonomy

Lastly, FIRE gave me autonomy. I love my life because I have the freedom to do what I want. I don’t have to listen to a manager or tell an adult what to do. That suits my temperament perfectly. Who needs the aggravation?

One way to become happier is to align your life with your values. That can be difficult when most of your life revolves around a job. Now that I no longer have a job, I have the autonomy to live the way I want. Autonomy is really the best thing about FIRE.

Can it be replicated?

So that’s my hack to shorten your midlife discontentment. Wouldn’t you like to have a nicer happiness curve? Why be stressed and discontented for so long? Let’s get it over with ASAP. However, I am just one data point. I wonder if other people can improve their happiness in their 40s instead of 50s. Someone else who went through a similar experience might react differently. After all, everyone is a unique individual. Let me know what you think.

What about you? Where are you on this curve? Are you not quite satisfied with life even with all you’ve accomplished? I’d love to hear from some early retirees in their 40s.

Photo by Tetbirt Salim

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Joe started Retire by 40 in 2010 to figure out how to retire early. After 16 years of investing and saving, he achieved financial independence and retired at 38.

Passive income is the key to early retirement. This year, Joe is investing in commercial real estate with CrowdStreet. They have many projects across the USA so check them out!

Joe also highly recommends Personal Capital for DIY investors. They have many useful tools that will help you reach financial independence.
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70 thoughts on “How I Hacked The Happiness Curve”

  1. 2nd set of eyes: Is it replicate a replicated?

    I like how you envision yourself happier after your child is gone. I see that as a running theme in some of your posts… You trying to convince yourself of the “joys” of parenting. I personally like these musings because i think much like we’ve discovered about consumerism- parenting and marriage are not actually facts of life. They don’t intrinsically make your life better. P.s.so much improvement in your writing! Although the lessons still smell of bloggerU ?

    Reply
  2. Great article! I went through a similar “pit of doom” period about 3 years ago. That was when I discovered this whole FIRE movement. It’s been incredibly rewarding trying to figure out how to escape the rat race!

    That said, I’ve still got a ways to go to get there. I read the book The Happiness Advantage by Shaun Achor, and he had some great advice on how to increase your happiness RIGHT NOW. He also cited a bunch of research showing that happiness tends to precede success. So if you can figure out way to increase your happiness now, that will help you achieve your goals!

    Cheers!

    Reply
  3. As a woman in my early forties I completely agree with the dip in happiness throughout your late thirties and early forties. I wonder if this curve is the same whether or not you have children. I love my children but they definitely add stress and fears I didn’t have before they were born. Waiting it out seems like a terrible idea. It seems like finding ways to handle the stress would go a lot farther in the short term.

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  4. I totally buy this, I’ve seen a similar chart of Fin. Sam once, it was in one of his older posts where he came up with a similar notion of the curve. Then I remember a poll that showed a similar results. Your graph seems rocky but general shape still fits. Low in center, higher at the end.

    I’m 27 but I feel like I’m 35 unfortunately. Still young and stupid enough to think I can impact something. And stressed. It’s not like I don’t day dream about a couple of kids, retired, do some writing, some cooking etc. — basically your life Joe! But I feel like I have to go through a trial to get there by 35-40 or else I will appreciate it less / not deserve it. If that makes sense…!

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  5. I’ve always been pretty happy, but I believe I’m at my happiest now. I think partly due to not having the stress of work and also not having the stress of worrying whether I can save for the future, because I’ve already done that. Not feeling the need to keep up with the Jones’ is also a big win.

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  6. Love this post!
    How is Mrs. RB40’s happiness curve, what does it look like? Is hers higher with work do you think?
    It is pretty time crunched right now at home with work and a toddler so my happiness level isn’t as high haha.
    I agree happiness = autonomy.

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  7. Definitely unanimous here as far as everyone hating the corporate environment. I left the corporate environment (think “Office Space” which was filmed down the street from my then corporate job in the 90’s) in my mid 20’s and am now mid 40’s. Learned early on what a rat-race and time-wasting debacle the corporate life was, so started a business with a $2K cash advance on my Visa card. Been self-employed ever since and never looked back.

    If you’re in the corporate environment and have the drive to succeed, take a chance on yourself and go for it. You won’t regret it. No corporation, no manager, no boss, will ever in a million years, care about you and your happiness more than you do. Work hard, don’t burn your bridges, be compassionate, be dedicated to your craft. It will take you places the corporate job could never do. And most importantly, take care of your body. You only get one, and as my Grandfather always reminded me “you’re already a millionaire if you have your health”.

    Great article and a reminder that it’s the little things in life that mean the most. And screw the Joneses’!! Make your own happiness curve and get that line moving up today!

    Reply
  8. Interesting perspective on hacking the happiness curve. I have to admit i thought of this exact thing when I first achieved FIRE. Though, I’ve also read books where happiness is relative. That’s why people in Nigeria can be happier than people in the States even though they earn just 1/5 of what Americans earn. Though, it does help if FIRE helps you reduce stress and improve help. It’s very difficult to be happy if you’re in poor health. So in that sense, by having FIRE improve your stress level, you can hack the happiness curve. Love the graphic of your curve laid on top of the average curve.

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  9. i don’t even know how my curve would look. i was in my 20’s when i had so little money i lived in a boarding house full of addicts/fiends. they were fun but it was depressing as you think you should be doing better.

    on second thought i think my curve looks more like yours with a dip around age 40 when i worked crappy hours. i just turned 50 and things are looking good now. being financially secure helps. and regarding those work comparisons: once i decided work was just a place to come and get money that pressure and stress disappeared.

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  10. Definitely much happier now i’m not working somewhere i don’t want to or living somewhere I don’t want to.

    I think as we get old I’ll probably get happier, but there will come a point when I cant do the things I want to, and i’m not sure that will make me very happy!

    Reply
    • That’s great to hear. I’m wondering about health in old age too. Apparently, people are still very happy even with some health issues. Or maybe they didn’t get data from really sick people. Who wants to fill out a survey when you’re really sick?
      Thanks!

      Reply
  11. Hi Joe, happiness is always a great topic, as everyone wants to be happy. “Being patient and staying the course” sounds too passive to me. Sometimes, the course might be a wrong one. I like to check where I am, where I like to be, and take positive actions. I want to be the driver for my life. Sitting at the passenger seat? That’s not me.

    I also realized my life is getting better as the time goes on. It could be the case, I’m getting older, and appreciate more on what I have. Life is pretty good so far. Have a great weekend.

    Reply
    • That’s why I didn’t like the core idea of the book. I doubt staying the course would have worked for me. I was too unhappy at work and I’m glad I changed my life. Autonomy is really good. Best wishes.

      Reply
  12. Another great post, Joe! The idea of FIRE as an accelerator for the happiness curve really resonates with me. I reached FI and retired early about 5 months ago at age 50, so hopefully I will see a double whammy multiplier effect on my happiness. On the other hand, my kids are still in middle school and heading into their terrible teen years, so who knows? Contrary to the thesis of the book, my parents (now in their mid 70’s) have said every decade was better than the one before.

    Reply
    • Good luck! It sounds like you’ll have a great 50s. 🙂
      The book mentioned a few other curves. Some people had an incline like your parents.
      Their childhood wasn’t happy and it gets better from there.

      Reply
  13. Maybe this explains my happiness levels. I have to admit though, I was ecstatic at 18, then 22 because at both ages, it was like I was experiencing some cool new adventure! Now I’m just waiting for FIRE… not a good attitude to have 🙁

    My mom did comment on this recently though. She’s in her early fifties and “retired”. She spends time playing piano, gardening, and hanging out with friends. She made a comment on how this is her second happiest time in life bc she doesn’t have responsibilities again since her children have both left for college.

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  14. Thank you for sharing this concept with us! I have never heard of it, but now I am thinking about it and how it relates to my life. I’m pretty young I think compared to most of your readers (20’s) and in my last year of graduate school. I find myself getting less and less happy though as I get closer to graduation. I’m studying education and early on , I knew that it wasn’t the career for me, but I was always too scared to change majors and to explore what I really wanted. Now I am about to get a masters/job hunt and I’m freaking out because this is not what I want to do. I’m working on finding a different path for my life now so it is a bit stressful!
    I personally think a big reason why people are happier when they are older is because they don’t compare themselves and they have a stable group of people whom they can go to for help. I find this to be the case when I went from middle school to high school and to college. The less I cared what other thinks (like what you said about keeping up with the Joneses), the happier I was.

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  15. Thanks for introducing a new concept to me. I have never heard of the Happiness Curve before. I have to admit though… how we quantify “happiness” and “life satisfaction” is very subjective. And the quantification of such happiness may only be measurable with respect to our own unique events in our life. I don’t think there is a great way to compare one person to another. My “6” could very well be someone else’s “9”. It’s hard to know.

    I consider myself a happy go lucky guy too who is generally optimistic and grateful. I think my hack to the happiness curve includes living a healthy lifestyle where I’m eating a good, healthy diet, exercise regularly, sleep well, manage stress, and maintain meaningful loving relationships.

    I really try to live my life in the intersection of the Blue Zones of Happiness and the Blue Zones of Longevity. IMO, that’s the optimal way to live.

    Looking forward to reading more about your upswing in happiness after you hit 45!!! 😀

    Reply
    • Yes, life satisfaction is subjective. You can rate it the way you want and don’t worry about others. That’s comparing yourself to others again. 🙂
      Health is a really big part of it. We’re trying to live a healthier lifestyle too. Thanks!

      Reply
  16. Parental decease is extremely difficult and sad. Mostly because it is a time when you must also accept your own mortality.

    Ironically, without my current job to provide me a routine, stability, and daily human network interaction I would have been in a much darker place with too much wealth on hand at a young age and no where to deploy which probably have led to destructive behavior… Ironically

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  17. This is a timely post for me, Joe, and I’m going to go back and read it at least once more as so much of it was helpful to me.

    With a new baby, major work changes, and crazy levels of stress, life satisfaction is surely in some sort of dip right now. Ironically, many of these changes are also delaying what I thought would be a partial solution to the stress: added expenses from kids and Mrs. Done by Forty maybe wanting to just stay home mean that I probably won’t be leaving the career as soon as I thought. Sigh.

    Nonetheless, there are some things I can’t control, but others I can. I’m certainly guilty of making myself less satisfied by continually comparing myself to others, and caring a LOT about what other people think of me (or, worse yet, what I think they think of me). It’s just a burden I’m putting on myself unnecessarily. And I don’t have to wait until my 50s to do something about it.

    Reply
  18. Thanks for the Cliff-Notes version of the book. Cliff Notes was my best friend in high school 🙂

    I always appreciate how transparent you are with your posts. You are definitely way ahead of the happiness curve from what I see!

    Being 24 years old, I’m glad to know it’s only downhill from here for the next 20 years 😉 It’s so individualized but I’m hopeful and excited for the years to come aka being done with college 🙂

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  19. I retired from the corporate world 10 days before my 49th birthday, so I only qualify as a very late FIRE-in-your-40s retiree. And while I feel much more content and satisfied with my life now in my early 50s than in the year before I left my last job , I do attribute that to the lifestyle-change much more than to the advance in age.

    But I think it’s true that one tends to have more ‘accomplishments’ to look back on as the years go by, e.g. grown-up kids, paid-off house, a bit of a nest-egg (or a big one if you’re part of the FIRE-community ;-)) and so on. And I would totally agree one’s not as harsh on oneself and others anymore, which probably results in more happiness, too. So I do agree with the overall trend of the curve. (The German happiness curve is terrible, by the way, it looks like the low stretches up into your late 60s, and it only gets better well into your 70s. But apparently the values are not comparable between countries :-))

    Reply
    • That’s still quite early. It’s great to hear that you’re more satisfied with life. That gives the 40 something people hope.
      Early retirement made a huge difference for me too. Life is so much better for me now. Best wishes.

      Reply
  20. Looking at my own life, I can say that I definitely hated the corporate environment. It was way too stressful. Then, once we had kids, life just got over-the-top hard.

    Things are better now that I’ve reached financial independence. I left that corporate hell-hole and focused on family with a little bit of ‘me’ time (instead of 0% ‘me’ time).

    I think I’ll still experience that upward curve in my 50’s and 60’s, but FI just kind of flattens things out.

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  21. “We’re not talking about the short-term happiness of finding a $20 bill on the sidewalk.”

    Bawahaha if I ever find a $20 bill on the street I’ll be happy for a whole day ? I love how you ran through this. I should do one of my own too. I guess by 40 I need to accept I won’t change the world either.

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  22. Very interesting stuff Joe, I should check out that book. I love that you’re now writing more about happiness and topics outside of PF. Develop a thick skin is very important, not care what people think about you is a crucial step!

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  23. Interesting to compare our individual curves to the USA average, cool apporach. My mother-in-law passed away last month, we’d been her caregiver for the past 8 years (dementia/Alzheimer’s). It sounds wrong, but we’ve actually moved up the happiness scale since her passing. Interesting way to chart our progress through life.

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  24. That book might need a new edition. That looks like happiness for people over 50 from 30plus years ago.
    What happens to 21st century 50 year olds and older?
    You did not have your kids until your 30s, so your kids are still home and teenagers or you witness the struggles of your kids falling into deep education debt and not getting a job that will cover it.
    Your health starts deteriorating
    You realize your retirement savings are very low if existent at all. Unlike pops, you do not have a pension.
    Your job is NOT secure and you have already suffered layoffs in the past, hence you are very anxious.
    You keep on reading where you should be in life, and you are not.

    Reply
    • This book is very new. From what I understand, it’s age that makes you happier in general. Circumstances may shift a bit, but older people are still happier in their 50s and 60s.
      Can I ask how old you are? What’s your curve look like?

      Reply
  25. That U-curve is interesting. I think I must have an inverted U curve when it comes to happiness. My childhood wasn’t too thrilling, and I don’t want to relive that. Sometimes I still have nightmares about taking exams and not being able to answer any questions on a test @[email protected]

    I think my happiness level has increased over the years, but it could start tapering off at one point as I get older (I hope not *tears*). I like your solutions though. Very practical and doable! 😀

    Reply
    • There are some other shapes. Some people have a tough childhood. Their curve looks like a sloping line instead of the U.
      People still become happier as they hit their 50s. Invested U would be bad…

      Reply
  26. Great post Joe. One of my wife’s friend always used to talk about the happiness curve when she was in the typical bottoming out period of life.

    I do wonder about older age and health issues and how that can negatively impact ones happiness. I see my 90 year old Dad struggle with health issues associated with advanced age and I can’t say that he at the peek of his happiness. You must see that in your Mother based on what I have read here?

    I was miserable in my mid 40s due to work. Thankfully I had pre-planned for FI and was able to beat the system in a similar manner as you only slightly older at the time.

    Tom

    Reply
    • From what I understand, the researches took health into account already. As long as they’re not too sick, old people are still happier. Dementia is a special case, though. Your brain just doesn’t work that well anymore. It’s hard to measure happiness at that point.
      Thanks for your input.

      Reply
    • I just used an excel sheet. It’s very simple. Just 2 columns. One for age and another for happiness level. The happiness level is arbitrary. It’s just how you feel about your life at that age.

      Reply
  27. This article couldn’t be more timely! I’m turning 30 three months from yesterday and because I’ve been taking stock about where I am at the close of my 20s have been feeling like my life has been on a slow, but steady, decline in quality since my early 20s. I thought I was just being ungrateful, because by most objective measures (net worth topping 100k, having closer, better relationships with my friends and family, eating better, drinking less, having a career-track job in something I find interesting enough — if not exactly my dream job) my life has never been better. Now I know THAT’S NORMAL!

    My biggest factor is probably a case of “Keeping Up with the Joneses”. While I’ve never been one for the materials arms race, my friends have all been making career moves (I was once the highest paid of my friends, now I’m among the lowest), finding life partners, getting married, going on 2-3 trips a year…of course on the other hand I’m still getting dirty looks whenever student loans come up in conversation (mine have been paid off for years), and I know for certain that if I lost my job I wouldn’t even have to start to worry about my finances for 18 months. That kind of stuff is easy to forget, because it’s intangible and not “in the now”. That’s why practicing gratitude for what you have is so important!

    Reply
    • You’re still on the downward slide according to the curve. 🙂 Hang in there and try your best.
      Yes, it’s normal. Everyone compares themselves to their friends and colleagues. Enjoy your youth, though. Best wishes!

      Reply
  28. If only we actually could see the happiness curve of the Joneses, people would have less of a desire to keep up with them. The great thing about FIRE is that when you come up with ideas you want to pursue, it doesn’t matter if they will make money, if you’ll be good enough, or if people will make fun of you. That’s what I love about it.

    I loved my engineering work, but the hours, commute and office politics, coupled with a cubicle indoor prison made it “a bit” low on the happiness scale. I had some amazing times doing it though. They make great memories.

    Reply
    • The u shape curve is the Joneses. It’s the average case. 50s is when people start to feel less competitive.
      Engineering was fun while it lasted, but I’m really happy I got out early. It was so stressful for me.

      Reply
  29. That’s really good to hear that happiness increases after 50. We know it won’t be as smooth as that, but that’s nice.

    But actually, I kinda don’t believe it. Many of our parents will die when we are in our 50s and 60s. Isn’t that a really sad thing to overcome? I worry about this day, but try not to think about it.

    Sam

    Reply
    • I was thinking about you when I wrote this. From what I understand, your happiness level has been flat for a while.
      Are you happier in your 40s than 30s? You’re very competitive and I think it’s harder for you guys to relax.
      Parents passing away is a sad event, but it’s better than being sick for an extended period. Personally, I think that’s much more difficult for the whole family. That’s where we are now. My parents’ health is failing and that decrease my life satisfaction level.

      Reply
  30. When I first began working at my current company, my supervisor showed a curve which represented job satisfaction by age/tenure of our company employees. It showed a very similar effect.

    Early in your career, you’re filled with ambition and the world is your oyster. You’ve excited to be put on any project, you’re grateful for your paycheck and bonus, and the opportunities are endless. This changes by year 5 when employees begin to recognize the company’s static career development compared to your prior expectations. You begin to grow resentful and frustrated with your lack of upward career trajectory. This continues largely until you’re within 5-10 years of retirement.

    Those last years are the golden years. You’re making more money, presumably have kids nearing college age or graduated, and retirement is coming soon. You realize your career provided a lot of benefits financially and you’re grateful for the job you had.

    I’m in the former part of the curve, making 5 years with my firm in a couple months. I definitely admit to having felt dissatisfaction over the last year or two as you see other individuals begin to move up the corporate ladder at different rates and wonder why you weren’t right there along with them. I’ve had some fortune to get to where I am now but think I’ve earned my promotions. It takes ambition to recognize those opportunities to advance and seize them.

    But recently, I’ve found starting my blog has been a great motivator for me at work. The autonomy, as you state above, has helped me. The blog has satisfied some of my entrepreneurial tendencies and made my life satisfaction trend higher. I’m excited to see where blogging takes me and what it can do for my career. I’m diversifying my career advancement possibilities and feel like I’m hacking my life happiness as a result of this decision.

    Reply
    • Good luck with your career. That job satisfaction curve might look a little different now. People change job so frequently these days.
      Autonomy makes a huge difference. The more you have, the better you’ll feel. Thanks for sharing and best wishes.

      Reply
  31. My 30s were the most confusing and unhappy times for me. I did something I see many others do —I attracted drama to my life. Choices made for the wrong reasons, or when I knew better, sent me reeling. In my 40s and now my 50s, I’ve led a much happier life.

    Reply
  32. Never heard of this one before. I’ll have to track out to see our progression. I’m normally pretty high to the happy. The last year or so has been a low due to some outside stressors. I’m currently taking action to return my hapiness to previous levels, removing several stressors. That being said first I have to complete transition away from those stressors. So for now I’m still a bit low.

    Reply
    • Check the book out. It’s not bad, just a little long. Good luck with removing those stressors. I think being a landlord is one of them, correct? We’re removing that one over the next few years too. 🙂

      Reply
  33. I have seen the happiness curve but never read the book, will put it on my to do list.

    I need to plot a curve like you did and see how I compare. I know early 2010 or so my curve would take a drastic dip down to 0 because of my divorce.

    I’m glad up hacked the curve and I’m trjong my best to do so as well though at 47 I can’t make it too drastic an impact anymore

    Reply
    • That’s tough. That was in your late 30s, it seems. So you’re on the upswing now. That’s great! You will feel more satisfied in the coming years even if you can’t make any big impact.

      Reply
  34. Hi Joe,
    Looking back, my 30’s were my happy times , even without being FIRE, and my 40’s were the worst (due to many losses). Enjoying my 50’s at the moment:)
    Ignoring the Jones can be tough but it is so much easier as you get older. Cheers

    Reply
  35. Yes! Ignore the Jones’s, who are probably deep in debt anyway! Put your blinders on and stay in your own lane, I say.
    Overall, quite happy.
    The bullies/losers are actually cowards in disguise. They don’t matter and mean nothing to the rest of us happy beings! Karma to them.
    Excellent post, good food for thought. Thanks!

    Reply
    • We learn acceptance and stop (or minimize) comparing ourselves to other as we age. That’s just part of getting older, it seems. FIRE helped me get there quicker. Once you don’t care about how other people perceive you financially, the rest is easier.

      Reply
  36. My life has been easy so far. Different stress levels at times, my graph would look like your happiness chart, peaks and valleys, but I have been happy.

    There have been days when I have been upset, and times I thought I may even be depressed, but they were short, and I think it is part of being human.

    I know all these could change in a heartbeat. And I think the one thing that could change it is a loved one’s health. I just want my life to stay the way it is…

    Reply
  37. Very interesting and I should check out that book. I think the reasons for the plunge in the 40’s they give are probably mostly valid. The 40’s are the very definition of “mid-life” and the mind has to come to terms with lots of realities.

    I feel physical health will be key to hacking my happiness curve. If I can’t enjoy being outside when I’m older I won’t be happy. And I also don’t want to be one of those guys who can’t even walk without wobbling when I’m 70. My plan for hacking the curve starts with staying fit and then adding ingredients on top of that.

    Reply
    • It sounds like you’ve got it figured out. Health is a huge part of happiness when you’re aging. I’m pretty sure the researches took health into account and people are still happier when they’re older. Even with some health problems. Healthier is better, for sure.

      Reply

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