Many of these articles are valuable, but most miss one essential truth, according to a fascinating video from Stanford social psychologist Jennifer Aaker: if you're chasing happiness, you're chasing a moving target.
By combing through more than 12 million personal blog posts and analyzing the language writers use to talk about their life and emotions, Aaker and her colleagues have shown that the definition of happiness shifts profoundly and predictably over time. Happiness at 15, in other words, feels wildly different than happiness at 55, and how to achieve happiness likewise diverges hugely.
In the five-minute video Aaker explains the five stages of happiness her research team has uncovered:
The story opens with us in our teens when, as you no doubt recall, we tend to feel isolated, uncertain, and often unappreciated as we struggle to define our goals. At this stage, "when happiness is felt, it's experienced as excitement," the research reveals.
By our mid-20s, most of us have figured out our goals and we go out to conquer the world in whatever way we've decided is meaningful for us. Around this time the definition of happiness changes. At this stage, "happiness is experienced when we feel successful and capable, especially when validated in the eyes of others," says Aaker.
As we move deeper into our 30s, the meaning of happiness shifts again. The video explains that "happiness becomes more associated with balance," as we focus on our families and the health and energy levels of our newly creaky bodies.
As you approach and then move into your 40s, "happiness becomes connected to a growing sense of meaning that comes with raising a family, a sense of spirituality and community, and a realization of the impact we can have in the world," according to Aaker's research.
In the final stage, "happiness is tied to feeling content and connected, where we appreciate what we've achieved and what he have. This feeling of gratefulness only grows into our 50s and 60s when happiness becomes increasingly associated with feeling calm, lucky, and blessed," reports Aaker.
The video also stresses that while we all tend to follow this trajectory, it's not set in stone. An older person focused on an ambitious new goal may feel some of the competitive happiness more typical of striving younger people, while focusing on the present and on being grateful for your blessings nudges young folks to spend more time savoring and less pursuing. Get all the details below.
This story matches up pretty well with my life so far. How about you?