KEY FINDINGS:  Relationships, Simple Pleasures, Health, and Control,  Rank Highest 

WASHINGTON, June 4, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Most Americans age 35+ are happy, but compared to historical General Social Survey (GSS) data, levels of happiness are on the decline and at their lowest levels (due in part to the economy), according to a new study released today by AARP.

In an effort to find out what happiness means to adults and what it takes to thrive as they age, AARP surveyed more than 4,000 adults age 35+. The study, titled “Beyond Happiness: Thriving”, provides a unique view of today’s modern family with a robust understanding of happiness, how it changes over time and how age affects the drivers that enable people to thrive.

“We’re always looking to get a more robust understanding of the contributors and barriers to happiness in people’s lives,” said Steve Cone, Executive Vice President of Integrated Value &Strategy, AARP. “Building on previous AARP research, which shows the importance of happiness and peace of mind to 50+ families, these new results affirm that we are on the right track—advocating to ensure basic health and financial security and making available everyday discounts that let people enjoy time with family and friends.”

The results of this study support the finding of a U-shape curve of happiness by age. The early 50s is the lowest point from which happiness builds. Thus, if you missed happiness in your 30’s, there is still another chance to achieve it in your 60’s. The results also provide four key insights around the drivers of happiness.


The Current State of Happiness

Overall, the strong majority (68%) of respondents report being happy, although intensity of happiness is somewhat tempered as the largest percent report being somewhat happy (49%) versus very happy (19%). Almost half of respondents feel they are just as happy as others (49%) and the rest tend to believe that they are happier than others (31%) as opposed to less happy than others (13%). Part of this may be attributed to the perceptions of people being the masters of their own happiness destiny. There is noted concern for the happiness of the next generation. Less than half feel they will be as happy or more (45%). Most are either not sure (19%) or believe they will be less happy (35%).

Relationships are the Key Driver of Happiness

Regardless of age, good relationships with friends, family, and even pets, were found to be universally important. Activities rooted firmly in relationships contributed most to happiness. The most significant were:

Kissing or Hugging Someone You Love

Watching your children grandchildren or close relative succeed

Being told you are a person who can be trusted or relied upon

Spending time with your family or friends such as a meal or social gathering

Experiencing a special moment with a child

Relationships with pets were especially important to women, singles and older individuals. However, relationships did have to be real: “connecting with friends or family on a social media site like Facebook” came in 37th out of 38 activities in contributing to happiness. Importantly, none of the top contributors require a lot of money to achieve; they are “simple pleasures” that can be had by all.


Health Perceptions, Rather than Reality, May Enable Happiness

Without health it is difficult to achieve happiness: people in “good or excellent” health are three times more likely to report being “very” happy. Health however, may be more a state of mind than objective reality: the percentage of those reporting good health is relatively stable over the 35-80 age range, varying only seven percentage points, even as reported chronic or serious medical conditions increase 400% in the same age range.

People Believe they can Control their Own Happiness

The majority of those surveyed feel they have control over their personal level of happiness. Interestingly, this sense of control increases with age. Moreover, people who feel in control are clearly happier—reporting that they are 2.5 times happier than those who believe happiness is out of their control. A sense of control is linked to higher income, higher education, good health and the lack of having experienced a major life event in the past year.

Money Does Not Guarantee Happiness

Money matters but how one spends it seems to matter more. Happiness increases with income and conversely, lack of financial resources was tied to unhappiness. While less than a third of participants said money contributed to happiness, when asked how they would spend $100 on something to increase happiness, most respondents said they would spend it on their family or going out to dinner. Money is only a resource, that when applied to meaningful areas of one’s life, can provide experiences that can increase happiness.

To access the complete study, visit http://www.aarp.org/happinessreport.

Methodology: Heart+Mind Strategies, an independent research and strategy firm, was commissioned by AARP to conduct a large scale mixed mode (Phone and Online) quantitative survey that included 4,397 participants among US residents ages 35 and older. Data were combined and then weighted to Census targets for Age/Gender, Region and Ethnicity. A post-weight was applied based on mode to give Online and Telephone equal weighting.

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