At least according to the survey reviewed in this short article. While only 1-33% of 18-year olds described themselves as “happy,” more than half of those over the age of 80 stated they were happy. From the article:
"With age comes happiness. That is, overall levels of happiness increase with age, net of other factors," wrote Yang Yang, a University of Chicago sociologist, in a report on the survey published in the American Sociological Review.
I don’t find these results all that surprising, at least in general. While I think older adults face certain challenges that lend themselves to feeling down (particularly in the context of loss, be it loss of occupation, “empty nest” syndrome, loss of physical abilities, losses in health, etc.), aging also tends to allow for the development of perspective, and maybe a increase in the flexibility of one’s world view. Cognitively speaking, in general people do not seem to be so beholden to their “cognitive rules” regarding their feelings, their attitudes towards themselves, or their attitudes regarding others. As a simple example, I think this is one of the reasons that, everything else being equal, a violence risk marker is age, with those under the age of 25 statistically more likely to act violently than someone over 25. Being able to consider both the long and short term implications of an act, as well as to be able to place it in context, helps to make better decisions, as well as to not respond quite as strongly to all life experiences. Hey, why do you think of all the arts, poets achieve their greatest success at the youngest average age? Because poets are wearing their hearts on their sleeve, and putting their responses to the world on paper in a very visceral, emotional way. As that perspective tempers, the intensity of the poetry lessens. Other forms of art may improve with that technique, but poetry tends to suffer.
Wow, how the heck did I get to poetry from the top of this post? Talk about being tangential! Anyway, I thought the study was interesting, whether you agree with my ramblings or not.