By Sunniva Heggertveit-Aoudia

In the western world on average we live longer, look younger, and have children later. The media talk about “Fifty being the new forty”—meaning people behave, dress, and look younger than before. The fact that we live longer actually creates challenges for governments—how to pay for retirement when people need it for so much longer? In France the solution last year was to increase the retirement age. France is not the only country taking action, or considering taking action. Government rules or not, some people choose to work longer than they have to, as they feel fit and they love their jobs. Others look forward to a long “second life” at leisure.

A while back I attended a workshop run by a 72-year-old man who kept saying that “life only gets better.” He referred to research published in The Economist’s December 2010 issue, “The U-bend of Life,” which shows people only get happier and happier after the peak of unhappiness at the age of forty-six. This factor is influenced by gender, personality, external circumstances, and age.

Briefly summarized, women tend to be happier than men (but also more depressed). Extraverts tend to be happier than neurotic people. Educated people are happier, as long as their investment gives them a good income. At older ages we tend to have more money (less worry about paying bills) and the children are out of the house (less anxiety).

Everyone is aware that optimists generally enjoy a better health and live longer than pessimists. This means people’s attitudes are important. But can attitude be changed? Or can pessimists learn to be optimists? Can you learn to see the glass half full instead of half empty?

My assumption is that many people would say we cannot change personality. From my experience as a professional coach, I would argue that you can alter some aspects of your personality, e.g. there are exercises you can do to focus more on positive parts of your life. By implementing a new habit, you actually do see results—people tend to open their eyes to what works well in their life and what they have already achieved, as well as noticing “little wonders” around them. There is some interesting research done on “positive psychology” that shows positivity can be learned and change can be made, specifically Carole Kauffmann’s Positive Psychology: The Science at the Heart of Coaching.

I wonder whether the research presented in The Economist would alter over time, considering that Generation Y (people born between 1980 and 2000) seek fun as well as meaning in their workplace and want both work/life balance and personal development. Wouldn’t this have an impact on their stress levels or unhappiness at a young age, for example, if they achieve work/life balance in their thirties? How much time would it take for the work environment to change with the wishes of the Generation Ys, or will it ever happen? Only time will tell. Looked at from a diversity angle I think Generation Y attitudes create opportunity for positive change and new, positive ways of working.

Thus, my final points are so:

  1. Research shows that you get happier with age.
  2. If you work on seeing the good in life, you can become even more positive—and thereby live longer.
  3. Generation Y work attitudes may influence their feeling of happiness at a younger age.

Alas, the future looks bright.

Sunniva Heggertveit-Aoudia

Sunniva Heggertveit-Aoudia

Sunniva Heggertveit-Aoudia, owner of NORSUN Diversity and Cross-Culture Consulting, is a consultant, trainer and coach (CPCC, ACC). She has more than 20 diverse years of experience from diversity & inclusion, human resources, and customer relations. She is a diversity specialist with deep knowledge on working across cultures.