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Keywords:

  • happiness;
  • aging;
  • epidemiology

Abstract

Objective

To test our hypotheses that happiness declines with age, and that age moderates the relationship of other influences on happiness, so that they vary in different age groups.

Methods

We analysed data from adults interviewed for the 2007 English National Psychiatric Morbidity Survey, representative of people living in private homes. 7399 (57%) of people approached completed information about our main outcome measure, a single item measure of happiness. We compared happiness between younger adults (aged 16–59) and those aged 60–69, 70–79 and 80+.

Results

2746 (39.6%) of people said that they were currently ‘very happy’, 3956 (52.4%) were ‘fairly happy’ and 697 (8.0%) were ‘not too happy’. Levels of happiness did not vary with age. Social capital and participation predicted happiness across the age span. However, the impact of several variables was moderated by age. Compared with younger people, living with a partner more strongly predicted happiness in people in their 70s. Attendance at religious services or places and having qualifications were more important predictors of happiness in the oldest old, whereas having a social network of at least three people was relatively less important in this age group.

Conclusion

Four out of 10 people reported being very happy, and five out of 10 were fairly happy. This is higher than levels reported in earlier surveys. Our findings suggest that interventions that increase social capital and participation may augment general happiness, health and recovery from illness and this would be an interesting area for future study. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.