Turns out Douglas Adams was way off: the answer to life, the universe and everything isn’t 42, it’s 23 and 69.
According to a new study published by the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics, ages 23 and 69 are statistically the times when you’ll be most happy in life.
The bad news: somewhere in the between the two, you’ll experience a slump in your overall life happiness. Mid-life crisis, anyone?
Based on data from 23,161 people between ages 17 and 85 who were asked questions about their life satisfaction and their expectations for future life satisfaction, the researchers concluded that happiness in life peaks at 23 and 69, and goes through a bit of a slump in the mid-50s.
According to the researchers, it all comes down to expectation. Young adults are generally overly optimistic about their future, while 69-year-olds are more prone to underestimate what’s to come, so they are happy with what they’ve got.
"These findings show a striking age-associated bias in life satisfaction forecasts," the researchers noted. "The young strongly overestimate their future life satisfaction while the elderly tend to underestimate it."
As for the mid-50s doldrums, the researchers hypothesised that their blues were mostly caused by regret at not achieving everything they had hoped by this stage in life.
"People in their 50s could learn a little from the elderly, who generally feel less regret. They should try not to be frustrated with their unmet expectations because they are probably not feeling much worse than their peers," study researcher Dr. Hannes Schwandt, of Princeton University, said in a statement.
One reason why the young may overestimate their future life satisfaction is because they may not realize how fast they'll adapt to things like income changes.
"Thus the observed age bias could be generated by the young expecting too much from anticipated income increases with the elderly, who face decreasing incomes, committing the opposite error," according to the study. "In the data, forecast errors indeed roughly match with the average income profile which is increasing during young adulthood and decreasing after age 50."