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Many happy returns - has age got much to do with happiness?

A new survey says we’re at our most depressed between the ages of 50 and 54 and don’t cheer up again until we’re 65. Two writers ask if age really has anything to do with happiness

By Una Brankin

So, now we're at our most miserable and dissatisfied between the ages of 50 and 54. A couple of months ago, another survey found that our 40s were the unhappiest and most stressful time of our lives. Now it seems that the misery continues into our 50s and doesn't abate until we're 65. How comforting.

Maybe it has something to do with not "acting our age", a trend personified by the likes of Mick Jagger and Madonna. Mick's 72; Madonna's 57 and they're still working and gallivanting around as if they're in their 20s.

They are the living and breathing examples of the idea that 60 is the new 40, and 50 is the new 30. That idea is aided and abetted by the new generation of facial fillers and injectables that help roll back the years. Although, in Madonna's case, a heavy hand is making her look puffed-up and weird.

Mick Jagger's mug may be criss-crossed with what he says are "laughter lines" ("Nothing could be that funny," was George Melly's classic retort to that claim), but at least he looks real.

Being 50 and over is harder for us women, though. Whereas men can go grey and look distinguished, we look washed-out and tired if we don't make a big effort with our appearances. We seem to put on weight more easily, too, and to become invisible on the street, where once we could have turned a head or attracted a wolf-whistle. It follows that, in a youth obsessed culture, nobody wants to be seen as slowing down too soon, and so we soldier on and on, wary of the new kid on the block encroaching on our territory.

And at this age, we've also been through at least two recessions in our lives and we carry the battle scars.

The most recent downturn has set us back years, draining nest eggs and forcing many of us to stay working full-time, when we'd rather be relaxing a little bit more and spending time with our families and elderly parents.

Many of us fell into the trap, in our 30s and 40s of taking out huge, long-term mortgages on properties now in negative equity, loans which must be repaid. There's no rest for the wickedly property-mad. For me, the worst aspect of 50 is the thought of losing my elderly relatives. Somehow, it has taken until this age to fully realise their mortality. I don't want them to go anywhere.

Mary Johnston: 'My rule of thumb these days is do it while you can'

According to the recent poll by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), I should be at the absolute peak of my lifetime happiness right now - and the good news is, this state of contentment is set to last for a further 10 years or more.

I should be currently feeling as happy as a teenager all over again, but I'm in my 60s and fast becoming one of the oldest people I know.

I find it impossible to believe that I am the age I am and still feel this good, so that's something at least, but to say that this is the best era of my entire life is stretching it somewhat. I loved my 30s and my 40s were fab. The ONS claims that people in their 50s are the least content these days, because they're having kids later in life and coping with ageing parents. Maybe so.

But I'd guess they're probably more financially stable than we were in our 50s and better equipped all round to deal with their teenagers.

They're also more savvy than we were. I'm hoping that, by the time mine are that age, if this survey is right, I'll still be as happy as Larry and still well enough to lend them a hand and cajole them out of their state of discontent, through my enduring happiness.

Both my husband and I had some hard times career-wise in our 50s and my youngest was still at primary school, but you just have to get on with it, which we did and came out the other side.

I find comfort in the words of CS Lewis: "There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind." Seems the fact that I'm still married adds to my sense of well-being, or so they say, but conversely my husband's a bit of a misery guts, so that must be down to his atheism, while me having a religious belief adds to my sunny disposition.

Indian and Chinese people have proven to be happier than others, but no one's offered any reason why.

Now to the nitty gritty. In my opinion, one's state of happiness is due to many considerations, good physical and mental health being of paramount importance. Some are born with a "glass half-full" mentality and others regularly fear the worst. My rule of thumb these days is 'do it while you can'.

Whatever it is that makes you happy and fulfilled, be it painting on silk like one of my pals, spending three hours a day exercising in the gym like another, or loving a good lie-in in bed like me, do it.

I love to travel and have become a bit of an adrenalin junkie, trying things I'd never have tried before.

My growing band of grandchildren - I now have six -make me extremely happy. They wear me out, but they fill me with joy.

I was going to say one thing is for sure, we'll all get old, but nothing is for sure in this life, so make the very most of it.

And finally, according to this survey, even in your 90s, you could still be as happy as you were in your 20s. You couldn't make it up.

From sliding down banisters to botox ... how these four local celebrities are ageing disgracefully

Denise Watson (44) is a radio and TV presenter/reporter for UTV and U105. She lives in  Lisburn with her  husband David Scott (45) and their two daughters Samantha (11) and Beth (7). She says:

Growing older doesn't phase me at all. In fact, I embrace ageing. I tell everybody my age and I don't have a problem with that at all. As I get older, I feel more secure and comfortable in my own self than I ever have.

As someone who played sport at a high level when I was younger, I have had a lot of problems with my knees and ankles. When I walk upstairs now, I can hear my knees clicking. But all that I worry about with regard to age is that I can stay healthy enough to be there for my two girls as they grow up. I do everything I can to ensure that I'm healthy, such as eating well.

Botox or surgery wouldn't be something I would do, as I hate anyone fiddling with my face. I know I have wrinkles, so I regret going to sunbeds and lying for hours in the sun when I was a teenager without proper sun protection. But that's just what we did in the Eighties."

Pamela Ballantine (57), host of UTV Life, lives in Belfast. She says:

Age is just a number. It has never bothered me. When I was 40, the party went on for a week and when I was 50 it lasted 10 days, so goodness knows what will happen when I turn 60.

As I have got older, I actually feel more confident in myself, both in work and my identity. I'm not sure that it's as the saying goes 'with age, comes wisdom', but certainly with age, comes experience.

At this stage of my life I know what is right for me. There is nothing I cannot do now, there are some things I wouldn't do - such as run round in a crop top with my belly out - I think Ulster has suffered enough. I wouldn't do a bungee jump, but I wouldn't have done it when I was 20 either. I will still abseil off the top of buildings and drive fast cars, and I will definitely still slide down banisters."

Jo-Anne Dobson (50) is an Ulster Unionist MLA for Upper Bann. She lives on a farm in Waringstown with her husband John and their two sons Mark (22) and Elliott (25). She says:

I turned 50 this year, and I feel as long as I have my health and the right attitude, age doesn't matter. I embrace life as I lost my best friend, Louise Peacock, in January. She was just 48 and had been terminally ill with breast cancer.

So age is about having the right mindset where you value every single day and don't get hung up on things. We are all only here for a short time, so we should make the most of our time. My mum, Joanie, who is in her 60s, is an inspiration to me. She has a great attitude to life. It's easy to get depressed about getting older when, in fact, you should be making the most of your time and living your life to the full."

Vinny Hurrell (33), who lives in north Belfast, is a presenter on Radio Ulster and hosts his own topical late-night show. He says:

My age on an old website is still 28, even though I am in my 30s now, so I must be more concerned about ageing that I think. When I was in my teens I used to wish I was older, so I could do what I wanted and be in control of my life.

Now it feels as though time has passed very quickly.

I like to give myself goals to tick them off in terms of my career and my personal happiness. My big concern is that I won't achieve them. In terms of my physical appearance, I do go to the gym four times a week as I was quite chubby at school and lacked confidence.

While I am training to stay healthy, I also don't want my belly hanging out either. Although I'm too young now and don't need treatments such as Botox, I wouldn't rule it out when I get older if I need it. I don't think I wouldn't consider surgery and I'd like to think if I took it too far, my family would tell me to stop, so I didn't end up looking like Jackie Stallone."

  • Interviews by Helen Carson

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