Happiness in youth comes from excitement, in maturity from contentment

The shifting meaning of happiness

From Social Psychological and Personality Science

This article reveals that for some people, excitement leads to happiness, and for others, nothing brings happiness so much as a peaceful life. Which you prefer depends on how old you are, and whether you focus on living in the moment or planning for the future. The researches trawled blogs searching for examples where authors expressed feelings of happiness, using the word ‘happy’ and where the bloggers age could be identified. For the youngest bloggers, “happy sentences” tended to include excitement words like ecstatic, giddy, excited and elated. But as bloggers got older, fewer excitement words were used. Instead their happy sentences contained words like relaxed, calm, peaceful, and relieved. It suggests that in youth happiness comes more from excitement, from looking toward the future, from planning possibilities and making them real. With age, happiness comes more from calm and contentment, and living most fully in the present. As we age the things that make us happy shift from future possibilities to appreciating the now.


An examination of emotions reported on 12 million personal blogs along with a series of surveys and laboratory experiments shows that the meaning of happiness is not fixed; instead, it systematically shifts over the course of one’s lifetime.Whereas younger people are more likely to associate happiness with excitement, as they get older, they become more likely to associate happiness with peacefulness. This change appears to be driven by a redirection of attention from the future to the present as people age. The dynamic of what happiness means has broad implications, from purchasing behavior to ways to increase one’s happiness.

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Article details
Mogilner, C., Kamvar, S., & Aaker, J. (2010). The Shifting Meaning of Happiness Social Psychological and Personality Science DOI: 10.1177/1948550610393987

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