Age is just a number, but that doesn't stop us from endowing it with a whole lot of meaning. Researchers have been attempting to identify the most important times in a person's life — the ages you are happiest, most confident, and most creative — for years now; and while the results of studies and surveys have been quite diverse, there are some common themes that make certain ages seem, well, just better. I'm not talking about turning 16 and getting your driver's license or reaching 21 and being able to go into a bar, though both provide a certain new-found confidence and excitement. Reaching peak happiness, confidence and creativity is far more illusive and doesn't necessarily involve hitting a clear milestone birthday.
There is no such thing as the perfect age, and though society tends to put a premium on youth, that doesn't mean your 20s are going to be your most successful or enjoyable decade. If you're not feeling particularly happy or creative during those years, don't let it get you down; though on the flip side of the coin, don't hold your breath waiting for a time when everything seems to fall into place.
Getting older is certainly not something to dread and as the studies show, no matter what age you are, it's never to late to pursue a passion and live life to the fullest. So go on — sign up for that pottery workshop or those guitar lessons.
Here are the happiest, most creative, most confident ages (according to science):
23 and 69: Peak Joy and Satisfaction
Wanna feel the joy? A 2013 study out of the London School of Economics and Political Sciences found that after analyzing data from 23,000 German respondents ages 17 through 85, "human wellbeing follows a U-shape over age" peaking at 23 and again at 69. The authors posited that when you're young you have very high expectations for your overall satisfaction with life — you're ready to take the world by storm and make your mark. These expectations decrease alongside the challenges that come with age, working jobs, and raising a family, and overall satisfaction dips. Around age 50, researchers found that life satisfaction increased yet again, peaking at 69 (seems retirement does lead to happiness). These findings don't mean that middle-age is a total bummer, but a positive outlook is key.
25: Peak Creative Thinking
Turning a quarter-century-old is certainly a milestone, and that means officially reaching your mid-twenties comes with all sorts of pressure. With the decade half over, you begin to feel the weight of age and career, like you're running out of time to do something great — but, in fact, 25 is one of the peak ages for your creative powers. Researchers out of Paris measured random non-linear thinking and decision-making in participants aged four through 91, to infer creativity and problem solving abilities, and found that people in their 20s are pros at being "so random." Published in the journal PLOS Computational Biology, the study found that, after leading some 3,400 participants in a series of tasks, the ability to mimic random responses peaked around 25 years old. With each passing decade, the answers came to resemble more of a pattern, with randomness declining sharply around 60. Those in their 20s should relish this randomness, even if it feels like you should be more "professional. After all, Orson Welles made Citizen Kane at 26, so whatcha waiting for?
After 65: Most Confident and Secure About Looks
A 2014 Gallup poll of 80,000 adult Americans found that body confidence soared after the age of 65. That's right, seniors felt better about their appearance that 20 and 30-year-olds. Respondents rated how they felt about the statement “You always feel good about your physical appearance” on a five-point scale ranging from "strongly disagree" to "strongly agree" and seniors won out. Sixty-six percent of those 65 and older "agreed" or "strongly agreed" with the statement, whereas only 61 percent of youthful 18 to 34-year-olds felt that way. From men and women, confidence dipped most in middle age with only 54 percent of 35 to 64-year-olds answering the prompt positively. It seems a wrinkle-free appearance doesn't necessarily lead to comfort and confidence.
42 Through 48: Best Creative Work
Middle age may not be very high on the happiness and confidence scale, but luckily, that means you may be to busy producing some of your best creative work. One study found that on average artists produced their opus around age 42, whereas a 2011 study noted that physicists made their most important discoveries at age 48. Whatever kind of creative thinking you use — it will combine with your perfected skills to make something great. Turns out you don't need to rely on the ignorance of youth to make something great. There is something important happening at every age — be it satisfaction, creativity or confidence.