When you are young, life is often an adventure. You are always experiencing something new. You are fit, healthy and dare to do something. In old age, on the other hand, the days tend to be more uniform. It pulls in the back, the knees cause problems, the eyes anyway. Nevertheless, many people are happier in old age. How happy you are also depends on yourself. Because you can do a lot for it.
Every year on March 20, the International Day of Happiness, which the United Nations launched ten years ago, reminds us that happiness is not only important for each individual, but also for society as a whole. "Happy people are healthier and also live longer," says happiness researcher and economist Karlheinz Ruckriegel from the Technical University in Nuremberg. He and other experts therefore believe that measuring the prosperity of a society in terms of material growth alone, i.e. gross domestic product, is not enough.
When someone wins at gambling, it is generally said to be lucky. But happiness research is less interested in this chance happiness than in happiness that feels good. "Happiness is the positive assessment of one's own life, one's own life situation," explains sociology professor Hilke Brockmann from the Constructor University in Bremen, who has been dealing with the topic for more than 15 years. Everyone's recipe for happiness is very individual, she says. But one thing is certain: money alone does not make you happy. "On average, the rich are happier than the poor. But saturation is quickly reached."
The "satisfaction paradox"
Age plays a major role - although youth is not everything. Medical professor Tobias Esch from the University of Witten/Herdecke, who has been researching the reward system of the brain and the experience of happiness for 20 years, speaks of a "satisfaction paradox". Despite physical ailments and illnesses, older people are generally happier and more content than middle-aged adults, says the expert. "Amazingly, the most important driver for this is aging itself."
In the course of life, the type of happiness changes, explains Esch. Young people were looking for fun and thrills. They rush from moment of happiness to moment of happiness, which is intense but fleeting. In later years, the "Valley of Tears" follows: a period of life in which many are happy when stress and unhappiness take a break.
Professional career, children, relationship problems, building or buying a house, some parents already in need of care - many people face a lot of challenges during this time. "You have a lot of commitments that stick like a log to your leg," says sociology professor Brockmann. "You slip into a middle hole." Later, life satisfaction increases again. "You're still fit enough to enjoy your retirement. You have time to reinvent yourself and experience something new."
At the age of 60 and over, people usually don't need much to be happy, as Esch found out. They felt a profound, enduring sense of happiness and contentment - despite the ailments of old age. "As you get older, you emancipate yourself from the idea of being completely healthy, as long as your existence is not threatened." At the end of life, the last one and a half to two years before death, satisfaction then statistically decreases again.
The happiness formula
Everyone is the architect of their own fortune - this saying is actually true to a large extent. "You can learn happiness," says Esch. How happy someone is is also a matter of type. For example, some people emit the neurotransmitter dopamine faster than others or break it down more slowly and are therefore more willing to take risks. The effect of the genes is around 30 to 40 percent. "That means more than half of life satisfaction can be learned."
But how does that work? From the point of view of the happiness researcher Ruckriegel, a realistic view of the world helps: "We perceive negative things much more than the positive ones." Sport, social contacts, having a meaningful job and getting involved with others or the community also make you happy - and of course a certain amount of income. "But this measure is grossly overestimated. One thing is clear in any case: if you focus on making money, you are not going so well on the road to happiness."