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AARP Research

Beyond Happiness: Thriving

AARP recently conducted research to better understand what happiness and well-being mean to middle aged and older Americans. Insights are guiding AARP on developing benefits to increase happiness and well-being among its constituents.

Key findings included:
Most Americans ages 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). Overall, most respondents (68%) report being Happy with the largest percentage indicating that they are Pretty happy.  There is a U-shaped happiness curve; early 50s is the lowest point of well being.  

Regardless of age, good relationship with friends, family and even pets were found to be universally important and the key driver of happiness.  However, as people continue to age and eventually retire, they are able to devote more time to building relationships and enjoying simple everyday pleasures. Those who are married or in a relationship are the happiest. Conversely, lowest levels of happiness are observed among those who are single.

While the majority of those surveyed feel they have control over their personal level of happiness, those who feel in control reported they were 2.5 times  happier than those who felt happiness was out of their control.  Control is linked to higher income and education, good health and lack of having experienced a major life event

Health is a universal enabler of happiness; without health, it is difficult to achieve happiness.  Those who report Excellent health are the most likely to indicate they are Very happy and least likely to report being Not too happy. Conversely, most of those in Poor or Terrible health indicate they are Not too happy.  A comparison of perceptions of health against number of serious conditions indicates there is a relative view of good health based on one’s age.

Income matters, but does not guarantee happiness.  It becomes a resource which can be applied to meaningful areas of one’s life. Lack of financial resources is tied to unhappiness.

For more information, please contact Jean Koppen at 202-434-6311.

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