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The Happiness Curve

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  • The Happiness Curve

    so this thread is dedicated to q-school who has brought up this concept a few times on here, most recently today:

    "they did a satisfaction curve internally amongst physicians.  basically the happiest were less than five years out and those five years from retirement.  everyone else was in the dumps.  change in medicine are really, really affecting professional satisfaction among the middle aged.  u shaped curve."

    I read a book last year, The Happiness Curve:  Why Life Gets Better After 50, by Jonathan Rauch.  I actually bought it for a friend's 50th birthday then got curious and read it myself (I bought my own copy, I'm not that cheap!).  It's about how happiness follows a u-shaped curve in general in humans, with the nadir generally in one's 40s, and then gradually starts to rise again in your 50s and goes up until old age.  What's more, this observation has actually held in research in other primates (interesting how they study life satisfaction/happiness in other primates).  He gets into the research on the topic, and points out that people who have had a relatively positive life are sometimes hit harder than this than people who have had a lot of hardships in their youth...it's kind of like you look at your life and say "my life is great, why am I not feeling happier?"

    I've been thinking about this in conjunction with q-school's remarks on the data on satisfaction curves in physicians.  We get done with training and just get a few years of actual work under our belts before the downward trajectory of the curve really starts to accelerate.  So our nadir corresponds with our career progression, but it might just be coincidental.  I'm not saying change in medicine hasn't added to this...but it might be much bigger than that.

    I would really recommend this book to anyone in their late 30s or 40s who is starting to wonder why they are not as satisfied with life as they think they ought to be, even when everything in their life is going great.  The book resonated with me, especially the parts about looking at what you have accomplished compared with what your 25 year old self thought they would accomplish, and it helped to just realize that this is something that most humans go through, it is a natural phase of life and there are hopefully many years of an increasing life satisfaction curve to look forward to.

    Would love to hear the perspectives of anyone who has read the book, and especially of those out there on the upswing of the curve.

  • #2




    He gets into the research on the topic, and points out that people who have had a relatively positive life are sometimes hit harder than this than people who have had a lot of hardships in their youth…it’s kind of like you look at your life and say “my life is great, why am I not feeling happier?”
    Click to expand...


    It's great perspective to keep.

    I especially agree with this sentiment above that I have heard before. It's one of the reasons I think depression and suicide are so prevalent in the affluent population. Kind of goes along with the premise of "don't forget to check on those that seem like they have it all together..."

    Thanks for sharing. I'm in my early 30's and have already started to feel this way about my satisfaction levels as well.

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    • #3




       It’s about how happiness follows a u-shaped curve in general in humans, with the nadir generally in one’s 40s, and then gradually starts to rise again in your 50s and goes up until old age.
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      I'm super excited to hear that. All uphill from here!
      Helping those who wear the white coat get a fair shake on Wall Street since 2011

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      • #4
        Nice post.

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        • #5
          In my physician burnout lecture, I have a slide that shows that if you overlay the curves of physician age vs burnout and the “happiness curve”, they are virtually mathematically inverse, one a U and the other an upside down U.

          Happily, pun intended, I now find myself on the better side of the apex/nadir.

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          • #6
            That’s really interesting and I wonder if it also pertains to non physicians and also a lot of people in the FIRE movement. Personally I had a great job for 5 years once I began working full time and it’s been downhill slowly ever since then. It coincided with when I switched from non profit to corporate America. And a lot of the lean FiRE people tend to quit in their mid 30s which is only 5-10 years of work.

            Finally I wonder if the happiness scale goes up in your 50s because that’s when kids are moving out and so maybe the empty nesters are rediscovering themselves because they have the time again

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            • #7
              Is happiness and contentment the same thing? If not, which is better?

              On the one side, YOLO, so you got to get that new thingamjig cause that makes you happy(until it doesn't).

              On the other hand so and so is so cheap and frugal he never wants to buy anything. He says he doesn't need anything, but he's just cheap.(or maybe he/she's just content)?

              In the middle you do a little YOLO in moderation and save for the future so that you don't run out of money. But there are probably meditation buddhist gurus out there who are as poor a heck and are as content as heck too. Do I want to be that person, heck no, but that's because I was born in the material USA and not some cave in tibet.

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              • #8


                The book resonated with me, especially the parts about looking at what you have accomplished compared with what your 25 year old self thought they would accomplish,
                Click to expand...


                Accomplishments, planned or realized, haven't affected my happiness much. Variations have more to do with hormones and circumstances.

                As a young man I had much higher highs and lower lows, and I think that had a lot to do with testosterone levels. Without the bigger swings it's probably fair to say that I am more content overall now that I'm older (and past the life cycle nadir described above), but I probably don't enjoy life as much; fewer thrills now.

                Circumstances have affected my happiness at every age. When my clinic is running late, and there is a stack of studies to read, and a long list of patient messages to review, and then the ER calls -- I am not happy. When I was in rehearsal with a company of beautiful dancers, all of us working our asses off doing something we loved, then I was very happy. That would still be true today -- if only I could still dance. :-(

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                • #9




                  That’s really interesting and I wonder if it also pertains to non physicians and also a lot of people in the FIRE movement. Personally I had a great job for 5 years once I began working full time and it’s been downhill slowly ever since then. It coincided with when I switched from non profit to corporate America. And a lot of the lean FiRE people tend to quit in their mid 30s which is only 5-10 years of work.

                  Finally I wonder if the happiness scale goes up in your 50s because that’s when kids are moving out and so maybe the empty nesters are rediscovering themselves because they have the time again
                  Click to expand...


                  Yes, the book is written by a journalist, applies to people in all career paths.  I've had this same thought about the 30 and 40 somethings in the FIRE movement.  I've heard/read a few of them talk about their struggles post retirement and I think "maybe it wasn't your job, it's just your current phase of life". I do think switching things up is helpful and that's one problem with being a doctor--you can switch jobs but generally are still doing the same thing, vs some other careers that offer a more varied trajectory.

                  I've also wondered that about the kid thing...but he also addressed that, the happiness curve is found in both those with and without kids.  It's an internal thing that we tend to blame on external factors but the research seems to point that it is a normal human development sort of thing, so to speak.

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                  • #10
                    I imagine in your late 30s and 40s you start to think big picture and realize this is your life. At work, you've probably reached the majority of promotions. You're now in charge of bigger projects, more people, etc. When bad days happen, you just feel stuck. At 20, you can change careers. At 30, you're less established in an area and can move jobs more easily. Leaving a social circle and starting all over probably is an intimidating task. That's why we see so many people here asking about job changes, because it's scary. When you're 16, you never asked anyone if you should go scoop ice cream instead of stock shelves.

                    And what's there to look forward to at 40? Retirement is far away. The fire movement would probably leave someone lonely without work friendships or if they don't have something to retire to. I imagine kids become less fun/cute/loving in their awkward middle school years, which probably happens around this time. All the same stuff is happening to one's spouse presumably too. If people are like us, it's also incredibly difficult to get together with friends because everyone's always busy. You add it all up and i can see how it's the most depressing time of people's lives. I didn't even mention people's health and self image isn't the same as when they were 18.

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                    • #11
                      I was just listening to this freakanomics podcast about how contentment and happiness is always relative.  I know that financial stressors of poverty in this country are real, but it's interesting to think of all the people in the world who would gladly trade spots with people earning poverty wages in this country.  I'm not saying that people in poverty should be content, I just think that things look much worse when everyone around you has it better then you.   I can see why they say that after you make a certain amount of money, making anymore doesn't bring you more happiness on average.    I don't know remember much that amount is, but I imagine that it's just 20-30% more then what I am currently making.   I think that it's always helpful to remember that the most valuable asset we have is time.  It's tricky because for most physicians, if you are not physically present at work, you are not generating an income, and then you start to think about the compounding interest you would have had if you had generated that income and invested it vs whatever you chose to spend your time on instead.

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                      • #12
                        @nephron-- Malcolm Gladwell in "David and Goliath" says the number is $75,000.

                         

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                        • #13




                          @nephron– Malcolm Gladwell in “David and Goliath” says the number is $75,000.

                           
                          Click to expand...


                          Hmmm, I don't know. That 82,324th dollar is the one that does it for me.

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                          • #14
                            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qMW6xgPgY4s

                             

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                            • #15
                              $75,000??

                              What?!

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