Science Says It’s Great To Be Young

For all the handwringing about millennial unhappiness, new research suggests a very different narrative: Today’s under-30 set is slightly happier than any previous generation of young adults — and happier than mature adults overall, according to a study published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

Research from San Diego State University analyzed more than 30 years of data and found the conventional idea that happiness grows as we age may no longer necessarily be true. The study, which examined happiness trends of nearly 1.3 million Americans, found that older adults are in fact less satisfied than they used to be. 

The study looked at people from ages 13 to 96 who all ranked if they were “very happy,” “pretty happy” or “not too happy.” The results showed that adults over 30 are no longer happier than the younger demographic, as previous research has shown.

The reason for the happiness decline may lie in expectations, the researchers explained in The Atlantic. When we’re younger, we have high hopes for our future realities. However, as we mature, we may slowly realize that we didn’t necessarily achieve what we set out to do, whether that means landing a dream job, having a happy marriage or whatever life circumstance we pictured for ourselves.

“With expectations so high, less happiness in adulthood may be the inevitable result,” wrote Jean Twenge, the study’s lead researcher and author of Generation Me. “Big dreams feel great when you’re an adolescent or a young adult just starting out. But somewhere around their late 20s, most people begin to realize reality isn’t going to match up.”

Data showed that 30 percent of young adults (those in the 18-29 age range) said they were “very happy” in the 2010s, slightly increasing from 28 percent in the 1970s. Teens are also happier now than they were in previous decades. Approximately 19 percent of adolescents said they were “very happy” in the 1970s, whereas 23 percent reported feeling the same in the 2010s.