While unique experiences shape the way that people evaluate happiness and optimism, a large-scale study data reveals that life satisfaction increases over subjects’ lifetimes.
Angelina R. Sutin of Florida State University College of Medicine (Florida, USA), and colleagues used two large-scale longitudinal studies, NIH’s Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging (BLSA) and the CDC’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), involving more than 10,000 repeated assessments across 30 years that surveyed well-being, health, and other factors. When the researchers analyzed the data across the whole pool of participants, older adults had lower levels of well-being than younger and middle-aged adults. Factoring in the effects of “birth cohort”— people born around the same time who may have had unique experiences that shape the way they evaluate happiness and optimism, the team analyzed the same data and found that life satisfaction increased over the participants’ lifetimes. In short, self-reported feelings of wellbeing tend to increase with age, but a person’s overall level of well-being depends on when he or she was born.
- Sutin AR, Terracciano A, Milaneschi Y, An Y, Ferrucci L, Zonderman AB. “The Effect of Birth Cohort on Well-Being: The Legacy of Economic Hard Times.” Psychol Sci. 2013 Jan 24.