What it means to be happy is different for all us — and that's a good thing! But if there is a universal secret to happiness, it's probably safe to say that most of us would be pretty interested in discovering it. That's why when recent research revealed what might be the secret to happiness, I was immediately intrigued. Unfortunately, though, it seems that this "secret" to happiness may hinge on some factors that are completely outside of our control — like, for example, how old we are.
A recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry suggests that not only are older people happier than Millennials, but that their age is the reason they are happier. (I know, I know: What happened to the joys of youth? What happened to the care-free feeling of our younger years?) The research, which was conducted by the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, examined the cognitive ability, physical health, and various other indicators of well-being of over 1,500 people between the ages of 21 and 100 — a sample size which is big enough to suggest that the results aren't a fluke or an oddity, but which are likely transferable to the general population.
Although the findings might not be what myself and other Millennials were hoping to hear, they're still pretty intriguing: Even when taking into account physical health issues that are more common in older populations, it appears that older generations are generally happier than younger ones. According to the study, much fewer of the older population experienced feelings of anxiety, depression, or stress than the participants who were between 20 and 30 years of age.
Considering what Millennials and surrounding generations have to deal with, though, the results actually aren't too surprising (or at least, they weren't to me): A tough job market and economy, high student loans, and the necessity of moving back in with your parents just to be able to afford to live all weigh heavily on people who are just entering the adult phase of their lives. While of course every generation has its own unique obstacles, the financial instability and job-related stress that's rife throughout the Millennial generation can have a huge impact on your mental health and overall happiness. It therefore makes sense that older generations who, by and large, don't have these particular worries would be happier.
Of course, as one of the study's authors, Dilip V. Jeste, explained over at TIME, it's also possible that older generations are more equipped to deal with certain pressures, stressors, and types of unhappiness. This makes sense, too: If you've been overcoming obstacles over the course of a lifetime, your life itself becomes evidence that you can get through and get to the other side. This may help put things in perspective more, making stress feel more manageable than when you are experiencing issues like losing your job or being in debt for the first time.
Overall, I think this study serves an important purpose: We all only get one life, and while stress and tough times are never things to be brushed under the rug or dismissed (your feelings are always valid), it can be helpful to view things as learning experiences and remember that there is a path out and a way through the hard times. And here's hoping we can all find some happiness in our youthful years while we're at it!