The happiness curve

Remember the childhood excitement you felt at Christmas?

I was giddy each year as I dreamed about the gift I’d request from Santa while getting my annual photo taken at Kotara Fair.

On Christmas Eve, I’d make my little sister drink litres of water so she could be my human alarm clock. Her full bladder woke us at the crack of dawn and we’d rush to the living room to see what delights our Christmas pillowcases held.

As I approached my late teens, my festive delight began to wane, so I sewed Christmas stockings for my sister, parents and grandparents. I’d spend months seeking little treasures to fill each stocking to bring more joy on Christmas Day.

Then I had children of my own and it was a buzz to watch their excitement at Christmas. I would take them to Carols by Candlelight too, hoping to bring my childhood festive delight back, but it wasn’t quite the same.

I missed that feeling of uncomplicated happiness and wonder.

And I’m not alone. Research conducted by Dartmouth professor David Blanchflower on hundreds of thousands of people in 132 countries shows that people around the world experience an inverted, U-shaped “happiness curve” during their lives.

Starting at age 18, your happiness level begins to decrease, reaching peak unhappiness at 47.2 in developed countries and 48.2 in developing countries.

And then happiness levels gradually increase again, which is a bit weird considering your physical health is gradually decreasing by then … but this blog post isn’t about raining on the happiness parade.

I think my unhappiness peaked a little early, at around 45 when my marriage ended. But that meant my happiness levels started rising again earlier too.

My sense of wonder has been returning in recent years, mainly through nature. I delight in the beauty I see around me.

On Friday morning, the dogs woke me before dawn and I stumbled out of bed to walk them. An 87-year-old bloke who I meet on my morning travels strode up behind me. He greeted me and patted the dogs, but was going too fast for us and paced off into the distance. He told me that his morning walk used to take him an hour, but he’s got it down to 45 minutes. He’s a marvel.

Speaking of marvels, as I turned off the main road, I saw the most incredible full moon hovering in the western sky. It was huge and glowing and beautiful. I was delighted by the sight of it. I tried to take a photo, but full moons are tricky things, you can’t seem to get closer to them and they’re impossible to capture on iPhones, so I just had to admire it with my eyes.

After I grabbed my coffee and turned to head home, a bloke about my age stopped me in the street. His eyes were a little glassy with delight. He urged me to turn around and look at the amazing moon in the sky. He’d been doing the same as me, walking up the road, gazing at it with awe.

We had a brief chat about how glorious it was, two middle-aged people filled with wonder as we stood in a suburban, then we went our separate ways.

Where am I going with this? Simply that I am thrilled my sense of wonder has returned. DD gets the credit for giving it a kick along. Our seven years together have been filled with beautiful experiences. I understand now that happiness isn’t necessarily about giving – and receiving -presents, but about being present.

As I mentioned during my holiday blogging, there were moments in the Kimberley when I literally became teary with joy.

A friend noted on Instagram about the photograph above from my trip: “This is the happiest photo I have ever seen on the internet. Ever.”

A slight exaggeration, but damn it was a good holiday.

That’s not to say my life is all unicorns and rainbows now that I’m back. There are still major pressures on a daily basis. DD and I were both very, very bleak during the week after our return. We were not happy to be back in the real world.

It helped to have my daily updates from the cruise to publish rather than my regular blogging – it’s given me a chance to get back on an even keel.

After about three days at home, my despair lifted and calm descended. I am feeling much better – and more hopeful – than I did before I left on holidays. I’m also quite zen about being in the current Sydney lockdown because I was lucky to have a holiday before the restrictions.

Also, people like 77-year-old Trish – pictured main – from the Kimberley cruise have shown me that getting older isn’t necessarily something to fear. Trish’s energy and spirit was so inspiring.

I’m dreaming and plotting my future plans. Right now I’m a little restricted by the responsibilities of single parenting. But, when the kids finish high school I will be able to make some life changes that don’t involve their convenience and I’m contemplating what they will be. Stay tuned!

Song of the day: Beach Boys “Good vibrations”

2 thoughts on “The happiness curve

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  1. Oh my goodness, I feel this 💛💛💛 A beautiful lockdown morning read that has left me with a smile and the feeling I too am on the right track xx

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