A recent survey in England asked people the above question and, after obtaining thousands of replies and running the various statistical analyses, came up with the result that on the whole people are happier after the age of 55 than when they were younger.
Various explanations have been put forward for this. By the time we reach what is called ‘middle age’ we have more or less found what it is we want to do in life, possess a home and a family, the children are older and possibly less of a strain, and we face fewer challenges about forging a career, finding a soul-mate and attaining financial stability.
The commentators in the TV studio that reported these results were eager to put forward their own views of what makes them happy. “Travelling,” said one. “Blue skies,” said another. “My children – well, most of the time,” was another contribution.
“It’s all baloney,” said the only man among the three. “Anyone who’s happy at the age of 55 has simply resigned himself to stagnating and has given up on life.” The other two disagreed with him vehemently, and eventually he was persuaded to say that going on holiday and enjoying the sunshine made him happy.
Blue skies? We have those in here in Israel in spades. Sunshine? That too. Similar studies undertaken in Israel have put its inhabitants high on the international happiness index. There’s no apparent reason for this, especially considering the geo-political situation, but perhaps the blue skies and sunshine have something to do with it. I’d venture a guess and say that the close ties that characterize most Israeli families also play their part.
I remember reading an interview with a soldier who returned home after being held captive for many months by the Egyptians in the Yom Kippur War. “It’s the little things,” he said, when asked what was the best thing about being home, after his initial joy at being reunited with his family and friends. “Being able to sit in an armchair, have a cup of coffee and a piece of home-made cake.” If that’s what a prisoner dreams about, that’s something I have in abundance.
I agree that it’s the little things that make for happiness, and for me, personally, happiness is a commodity in which I feel I am inordinately rich. Right now, at this moment, sitting at my desk, listening to a Beethoven sonata on the radio and glancing out of the window at the sunshine bathing the trees and houses on the hill opposite makes me happy. Enjoying the flowers in my garden, or drinking a cup of coffee with a biscuit early in the morning as I read the newspaper and all is quiet around me makes me happy. Seeing my children and grandchildren gathered around my dining table and eating the meal I’ve prepared makes me happy. Attending a concert of uplifting music makes me happy. Meeting friends in the interval of the concert makes me happy, too, as does having friends round for coffee or a meal. Writing my blog makes me happy, especially if someone writes a comment about it (preferably positive). Remembering a word or a name that’s been evading me for hours or days makes me happy (though the moment when I realize I can’t dredge the item up from my memory makes me distinctly unhappy). Reading an interesting book makes me happy. Watching a good play, movie or TV show (preferably a comedy) makes me happy. Eating a nice meal accompanied by a glass of wine (any plonk will do, I’m no connoisseur), makes me happy.
I won’t go on. Yes, travelling is nice, but sitting cramped for many hours in the metal box which passes for a plane is not exactly conducive to happiness (unless it’s in First Class, or even Business Class, which I’ve experienced only once). I no longer like noisy people or loud music, and so tend to avoid public places more and more as I get older. It seems that by now I’ve more or less worked out how to be happy most of the time.
Naturally, I’d be overjoyed if Israel were to find a way to make peace with its neighbours, if all the disputes in the world were to be settled and harmony reigned everywhere, but happiness also depends on having realistic expectations.
Possibly in my younger days the things that made me happy would have included parties, dances and possibly even a visit to the funfair, but those times have passed. Getting old does seem to have something to do with being happy, after all, and there’s nothing wrong with striving for happiness even when you’re old. Perhaps after turning 55 happiness is easier to find and closer at hand than it ever was before.
So, what makes you happy?