Recently the Brookings Institution’s Carol Graham looked at the relationship between age and happiness around the world, as measured by the Gallup World Poll conducted from 2011 to 2013. Graham describes it as a U-shaped curve, with the low point in happiness being at roughly age 40 around the world.
The takeaway? Once we’ve passed a certain point, things get better as we age, as long as we are reasonably healthy (age-adjusted) and in a stable partnership.
Graham explains that this relationship is fairly universal. It shows up across countries and across generations – even among apes. But there’s some bad news for millennials: As if coming of age in the worst job market in modern times wasn’t enough, statistically speaking, the worst is still ahead.
The happiness curve for the United States bottoms out at about age 47. This means that for the average 25-year-old, satisfaction with life will continually become worse for two decades before things finally start to turn around.
But American millennials can be thankful they don’t live in Russia. (One important caveat: Happiness values are relative and cannot be compared between countries.)
In most countries, the happiness curve bottoms out somewhere around middle age. This is usually long before the average person is expected to die, with one major exception: in Russia, the curve doesn’t bottom out until age 91. Essentially, life under President Vladimir Putin is one continuous downward spiral into despair.
In the Better Life Index published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Russians rated their general life satisfaction as 3 out of 10. Three-quarters of Russians say they are struggling or suffering, with only 25 percent thriving, according to their responses to a 2012 Gallup survey. Compare that with the United States, where life satisfaction is a robust 7.6 and nearly 60 percent of those surveyed describe themselves as thriving.
In America, millennials can expect three decades of rising happiness after they hit rock bottom. In Russia, the only thing to look forward to is death’s sweet embrace.