Finance 101: We get happier as we age

Who knew?

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I have long followed Tadas Viskanta’s excellent blog, Abnormal Returns [bit.ly/AReturns].  As an advisor and planner, I find it to be an excellent resource for thought-provoking writing and articles for the somewhat nerdy financial types like me. But it is regularly more than that, and deals with bigger concepts like the relationship between happiness and aging.
Don’t we all wonder about how to be happy, and also what life will look like as we age? I think it would be an easy leap to assume that as we age, things start to go downhill: bad knees, high blood pressure, not being as needed by the world we more recently inhabited, and slowly tallying the friends and acquaintances who have passed from our lives. But that’s probably wrong, and a product of our current situation and current age.
Please see the graphic at the top of the article. What it shows is that we are pretty happy when we are young, for lots of reasons. But then we slog and grind our way through our 30s to our 50s, dealing with unrealized goals and and avoiding uncomfortable truths about ourselves. (FYI, I am 53, so I am almost exactly at the low-ebb mark, which I now find comforting).
It seems that at that time in our lives, we start to shed a lot of our illusions and disappointments and start appreciating what we have and where we want to make a difference — literally forgetting about the Joneses or the regrets of a musical career never pursued. Instead we turn our eyes to those most important to us, like family, friends, and others in our “tribe,” as they are referred to in the article in Abnormal Returns.
It’s really easy to get caught up in our here and now, and divert our eyes from the distant horizon. Let’s face it, we’re all pretty busy doing what we are doing. It’s also easy to wonder what life is all about, and maybe feel like we kinda missed out on what we thought, at the time, would make us happy. What I think we really have done is not see what is most important, and not focused on those things. And that just takes time. But the nice part? As you age, you will probably be happier and more content.
As Viskanta says in Abnormal Returns, “That crossover in expectations sounds suspiciously like something we experience in the financial markets all the time. The former high-flying stock  bottoms out as earnings expectations eventually catch up with reality. All of the disappointed holders sell out, and the remaining holders are satisfied with the companies’ results modestly outpacing expectations.
“Our lives are not stocks. But expectations matter. The evidence on the U-curve in life satisfaction is overwhelming. If it doesn’t hit you smack-dab between the eyes, consider yourself lucky. We spend so much time planning our financial lives: saving, working, spending. We do little to plan for life’s inevitable shocks, whether they be in middle age or in retirement. Just knowing about the existence of the U-curve will remind you that you are not unique, and there is a reason for optimism on the other side.”

So what all this means it that you can literally plan on being happier as you age, with the understanding that your 30s to your mid-50s may be disappointing in many ways. But you probably won’t care about that once you are through it. You’ve got good things ahead.

 

John Kageleiry is a business writer and financial planner. Read more finance columns at veriumplanning.com. Have a question for “Finance 101”? Email it to john@veriumplanning.com.