It's well known that happiness is U-shaped in age (pdf): it troughs around our early 40s.
But why do we cheer up after then, even though our health starts to go? This new paper has some answers, and they're not terrribly encouraging:
1. Older people no longer suffer from unemployment, or the threat thereof. And joblessness is disastrous for well-being.
2. Divorce and widowhood hurt younger people more. This is partly because they are unexpected when one is young. It's also because people adapt to their circumstances, so the pain of divorce fades over time. When you're 41, your divorce at age 40 hurts. But by the age of 6o, you're over it.
3. Older people are more religious, and religion is a big source of happiness. I'm not clear, however, whether this is an age or cohort effect. If it's the case that people born in the 1930s are more religious than those born in the 60s, this is no comfort to us 40-something atheists*. But if it's the case that we tend to find God as we get older, perhaps it is.
* Not that we are unhappy, at least today.