The correlation is pretty clear: the older we get, the happier we become.
Only in the last decade have researchers begun to measure happiness across the life span and, in doing so, try to understand why older people tend to be so content.
The explanation doesn’t appear to be biological — some chemical in the brain that mellows us just when all those plump neurons needed for thinking and memory are shriveling up. Rather, most scientists now think that experience and the mere passage of time gradually motivate people to approach life differently. The blazing-to-freezing range of emotions experienced by the young blends into something more lukewarm by later life, numerous studies show. Older people are less likely to be caught up in their emotions and more likely to focus on the positive, ignoring the negative.
I also wonder if the increased happiness of older people might also be the result of not having kids around anymore. As Daniel Gilbert notes, “The only known symptom of the empty-nest syndrome is increased smiling. Careful studies of how women feel as they go about their daily activities show that they are less happy when taking care of their children than when eating, exercising, shopping, napping, or watching television.” According to the self-reports of parents, looking after the kids is only marginally better than mopping the floor.
Final thought: are older people less vulnerable to status anxiety?