Since childhood (or maybe since the movie 13 Going on 30), we’ve been told that our 30s would be a magical time. A time when the angst-ridden insecurities of our youth fall away and we stop caring so much and can just live our best lives — maybe with a robust savings account, and a lover with a nice beard. Conventional wisdom insisted things only got better as we get older and our 30s would be prime time. Conventional wisdom is a dirty liar.
For some past generations, yes, that fairy tale was truth, but according to a new paper published in the journal of Social Psychological and Personality Science, millennials are getting the short end of the 30-something stick.
After analyzing “subjective well being” survey data from 1.3 million Americans between the ages of 13 and 96 collected between 1970 and 2014, researcher Jean Twenge noticed a pattern: Before 2010, people’s happiness increased with age, but in the past five years, a reverse happened. Things pretty much start to suck after adolescence. “Adults 30 and over are less happy than they used to be, while, teens and young adults are happier; in fact, adults over 30 are no longer happier than their younger counterparts,” she writes in The Atlantic.
Twenge and her team don’t have any concrete reasons as to why this decline happens, though one theory Twenge rests on is the idea that “happiness is reality divided by expectation.”
With expectations so high, less happiness in adulthood may be the inevitable result. 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 …
Based on that, here’s some new conventional wisdom: Don’t have any dreams, ambitions, or high expectations early in life and your 30s will be a glorious decade.