The secret to happiness after 50

The midlife doldrums are real. But fear not; they don’t last forever. Take it from Jonathan Rauch, a journalist and author who has systematically studied every bit of research on happiness across the life course. The results of his quest are the subject of his smart new book, “The Happiness Curve, Why Life Gets Better After 50.

Rauch, who is about to turn 58, was sparked on his journey by something that overcame him in his 40s—a general sense of malaise that didn’t match the positive place he was in his life as a successful writer, with a generally satisfying life. In his book, he refers to “an accumulated drizzle of disappointment which can become self-sustaining but is quite unlike clinical depression or anxiety.”

Investigating the midlife malaise

Rauch didn’t feel he needed medical attention, yet the malaise nagged at him. And as he looked his peer group, he noticed a lot of others dealing with the same feeling. So he decided to investigate the reason behind this seemingly ubiquitous dip. And that’s when Rauch, now a senior fellow at The Brookings Institution and a contributing editor of The Atlantic, discovered what psychologists call the “U-shaped happiness curve” — the idea that youth and old age are times of relative happiness, but there is a big drop in happiness at midlife before a turnaround that generally kicks in at around 50.

For his book, Rauch reviewed life satisfaction data by decade from nearly 300 people who responded to his questionnaire and interviewed experts connected to the research he studied. He interweaves all of this with personal, relatable anecdotes from everyday people and his own life.

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