happy baby boomers

Happiness increases after 50

After age 50, daily stress and worry take a dive and daily happiness increases, according to an analysis of more than 340,000 adults questioned about the emotions they experienced “yesterday.”The research, published online today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that young adults experience more negative emotions more frequently than those who are older. Negative emotions, such as stress and anger, are similar in that they consistently decline with age, but worry holds steady until around 50, when it sharply drops, the study shows.


The analysis is based on a Gallup phone survey of 340,847 adults, ages 18-85, which was compiled in 2008 as the first year of a 25-year effort to measure well-being in the USA.

The Gallup Organization, along with the Tennessee-based Healthways Corp., created the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, in which about 1,000 adults each day were surveyed from Jan. 2 to Dec. 31 to get a real-time view of well-being. Respondents were asked about various emotions, such as enjoyment, happiness, stress, worry, anger and sadness, and asked to describe how they felt “yesterday.”

“After 50 is when things start dropping off dramatically in terms of worry and stress. That’s the turning point in some ways, but it’s not a magic number in terms of everything that’s better,” says study co-author Arthur Stone, a professor of psychiatry and psychology at Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, N.Y. He is also a senior scientist with Gallup.

Stress is “constantly dropping, but the curve gets much steeper after age 50,” he says.

The study also found that women reported greater stress, worry and sadness than men at all ages.

This research also confirms earlier findings about overall life satisfaction, which show that perceptions about overall well-being become more positive after 50. But unlike that genre of research, the new study gives additional insight into daily emotions, which psychologist Laura Carstensen of Stanford University says is particularly significant.

Carstensen, founding director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, has done similar emotion research in which 184 people ages 18-94 were given beepers and asked to share their emotions at random times they were beeped during the day. That type of research is costly and can’t be done with large numbers of people, she says.

“What’s really important about what they’ve done is they’ve got a method that appears to be capturing the same phenomenon with a very short measure,” Carstensen says.

Carstensen says her research and Stone’s research both show “a tiny increase in positives but a whopping decrease in negatives.”

And just how much does the year 2008 play into the findings, since that’s when the recession was foremost among most minds in the USA?

Carstensen says her “hunch” is that the recession had more of an influence on general life satisfaction rather than on individual emotions.

Stone’s guess is that “the levels on average of stress and worry are probably higher in 2008 than in 2009 and 2010,” but the study doesn’t attempt any comparisons, he says.

Via USA Today