Over the life course, people’s happiness tends to follow a U-shaped curve; it begins to decline around the age of 18 and hits its lowest point around age 47 or 48, at which point it starts to go back up again.
Researchers aren’t sure why happiness follows this trajectory. Our personal hypothesis is that after young adulthood, and especially in one’s thirties and forties, an individual can viscerally feel his vitality, his life juices, slowly draining away, and he grieves this loss. By the time he nears 50, he’s forgotten what the buoyancy of youth felt like, so he no longer mourns its memory.
A depressing theory, I know. But it’s not a bad thing to view the aging process through a sobering lens.
There are upsides of aging, and plenty of quotes out there that affirm its advantages. But around here, we find that reciting bleaker mantras to each other is actually a rather life-affirming thing to do.
A lot of people are fixated on how they plan to stay healthy and active into old age, and this is a great goal to which to aspire. But no matter how much stretching and green smoothie drinking you do, you’re never going to feel the same at 70 as you do at 30. Thinking about how vital you’re going to stay in elderhood, about how much good time you have left, after all, is a way of denying the inevitabilities of mortality — of escaping the responsibility of making the very most of the present moment.
The key to cultivating that carpe diem attitude is staying ever cognizant of the fact that old age comes for everyone, and always involves some loss. The following quotes can be a help in that.
This kind of reflection is worth regularly engaging in regardless of your age; after all, no matter how far advanced you are in years, you’ll never be as young as you are right now.
“After thirty a man wakes up sad every morning.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson
“No snow falls lighter than the snow of age; but none lies heavier, for it never melts.” —L.N. Child
“When we are young, we are slavishly employed in procuring something whereby we may live comfortably when we grow old; and when we are old, we perceive it is too late to live as we proposed.” —Alexander Pope
“Every one desires to live long, but no one would be old.” —Jonathan Swift
“Nothing is more disgraceful than that an old man should have nothing to show to prove that he has lived long, except his years.” —Seneca
“A person is always startled when he hears himself seriously called old for the first time.” —O. W. Holmes
“Age that lessens the enjoyment of life, increases our desire of living.” —Oliver Goldsmith
“Men of age object too much, consult too long, adventure too little, repent too soon, and seldom drive business home to the full period, but content themselves with a mediocrity of success.” —Francis Bacon
“Without fullness of experience, length of days is nothing. When fullness of life has been achieved, shortness of days is nothing. That is perhaps why the young . . . have usually so little fear of death; they live by intensities that the elderly have forgotten.” —Lewis Mumford
“As we advance in life, the circle of our pains enlarges, while that of our pleasures contracts.” —Sophie Swetchine
“Old age adds to the respect due to virtue, but it takes nothing from the contempt inspired by vice; it whitens only the hair.” —J. P. Senn
“Old age is a tyrant, which forbids the pleasures of youth on pain of death.” —François de La Rochefoucauld
“Forty is the old age of youth; fifty is the youth of old age.” —Victor Hugo
“How many fancy they have experience simply because they have grown old.” —Stanislaus
“Childhood sometimes does pay a second visit to a man; youth never.” —Anna Jameson