The U-curve of happiness: Why old age is a time of psychological bliss

Here's why many 80 year olds are probably happier than you.

ASHTON APPLEWHITE: There are lots of legitimate reasons to worry about getting older, like getting sick and running out of money, ending up alone. Those fears are legitimate and real. But the thing is, we need to think about how the culture in which we age shapes those experiences. I'm not a Pollyanna about aging. I'm sort of in the 'both sides of the story' business. We hear only the downside. And we hear very little about all the positive aspects of aging, which are that we grow more confident, we grow happier.

When I started thinking about all this, my view of old age was unrelievedly grim. And one of the things I stumbled upon really early was the U-curve of happiness. And when I first encountered it, seriously I thought they must have cornered two 80 year olds, and given them a cookie, and said 'How are you doing?' The U-curve shows that people are happiest at the beginnings and the ends of our lives, that midlife, the famous midlife crisis, is indeed the trough of our satisfaction. And this is true for a couple of reasons. Midlife is the time of life when typically we have maximum family responsibilities. We're supposed to be crushing it in our careers. We may have responsibility for people both older and younger than us. And it's also the time of life where we realize, gee, I may not become a ballerina, I may not hike Mt. Everest. And those are sobering reflections, that maybe now, you're at a turning point, and there's more road behind you than ahead.

But something happens as we get older, especially up into our 80s. And it is the exact opposite of an ageist thought that I started out with. I thought, well, obviously, everything about getting older is going to suck. And one of the things that clearly sucks about it is the proximity to death. I envisioned, I literally envisioned the shadow of the grim reaper stretching over this sad iron bedstead. The awareness that time is short does not fill people with dread. It doesn't work that way neurologically. That was another assumption of mine. The knowledge that time is short helps people live in the moment, because they are more conscious about what they want to do with their time and who they want to spend it with. Kids live in the moment because they aren't neurologically equipped to do anything else. And olders do it because precisely they are aware that time is short and they want to make the most of the remaining time. It's why the older people are, the less they worry about dying. They don't want to die. And they especially don't want to die in pain. But they don't worry about it. And they think younger people worry too much about both the dying and the getting there.

  • The U-curve of happiness shows that we humans are most content at the beginnings and ends of our lives.
  • The famous midlife crisis is the trough of our happiness because it's a time when we have responsibility for people older and younger than us, and we grow aware that we may not fulfill the dreams of our youth.
  • Children and people in their 80s are uniquely able to live in the moment and be happy because they live at a neurological and psychological sweet spot, respectively.



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Scientists study tattooed corpses, find pigment in lymph nodes

It turns out, that tattoo ink can travel throughout your body and settle in lymph nodes.

17th August 1973: An American tattoo artist working on a client's shoulder. (Photo by F. Roy Kemp/BIPs/Getty Images)
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In the slightly macabre experiment to find out where tattoo ink travels to in the body, French and German researchers recently used synchrotron X-ray fluorescence in four "inked" human cadavers — as well as one without. The results of their 2017 study? Some of the tattoo ink apparently settled in lymph nodes.


Image from the study.

As the authors explain in the study — they hail from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment — it would have been unethical to test this on live animals since those creatures would not be able to give permission to be tattooed.

Because of the prevalence of tattoos these days, the researchers wanted to find out if the ink could be harmful in some way.

"The increasing prevalence of tattoos provoked safety concerns with respect to particle distribution and effects inside the human body," they write.

It works like this: Since lymph nodes filter lymph, which is the fluid that carries white blood cells throughout the body in an effort to fight infections that are encountered, that is where some of the ink particles collect.

Image by authors of the study.

Titanium dioxide appears to be the thing that travels. It's a white tattoo ink pigment that's mixed with other colors all the time to control shades.

The study's authors will keep working on this in the meantime.

“In future experiments we will also look into the pigment and heavy metal burden of other, more distant internal organs and tissues in order to track any possible bio-distribution of tattoo ink ingredients throughout the body. The outcome of these investigations not only will be helpful in the assessment of the health risks associated with tattooing but also in the judgment of other exposures such as, e.g., the entrance of TiO2 nanoparticles present in cosmetics at the site of damaged skin."

Why are so many objects in space shaped like discs?

It's one of the most consistent patterns in the unviverse. What causes it?

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  • Spinning discs are everywhere – just look at our solar system, the rings of Saturn, and all the spiral galaxies in the universe.
  • Spinning discs are the result of two things: The force of gravity and a phenomenon in physics called the conservation of angular momentum.
  • Gravity brings matter together; the closer the matter gets, the more it accelerates – much like an ice skater who spins faster and faster the closer their arms get to their body. Then, this spinning cloud collapses due to up and down and diagonal collisions that cancel each other out until the only motion they have in common is the spin – and voila: A flat disc.