real life

The things that make you happy will change 5 times in your lifetime.

Image via iStock.

For most of us ‘happiness‘ is viewed as a fixed goal and something we spend a lot of time – and in some cases a lifetime – trying to achieve. But what makes you happy at one stage of your life, won’t necessarily cut it as you get older.

In a video launched ahead of the 2015 summit Future of Storytelling that looks at how science and technology connect with human nature, social psychologists Jennifer Aaker, Cassie Mogilner and Sep Kamvar shared their research into happiness and its stimuli based on an analysis of 12 million blog posts. They found universal trends of age and what constitutes happiness, identifying 5 key changes.

“The meaning of happiness appears to systematically shift every five to 10 years,” says Aaker. Rather than just a change of taste, the team identified five distinct chapters in our lives that shape our happiness.

1. Discovery

In our formative years, our purpose is all about learning and discovery and in our teens we often feel isolated, unloved and uncertain. “We’re searching for our goals, unsure of what they are,” explained Aaker.

As a result, when happiness is felt, it’s in the form of excitement. This ‘angsty’ form of happiness can come from discovering new things, learning new skills or coming across something unexpected that you haven’t experienced before.

2. Pursuit

When we enter our mid 20s, the story of our lives changes to pursuit.

“Having identified our goals we go out to conquer the world,” she says. This can be through travelling and adventure or climbing the career ladder.

Happiness in this chapter of life is characterised by feeling successful and capable, particularly when validated in the eyes of others.

3. Balance

As we move into our late 20s and early 30s, our levels of ambition and desire for success remain important but there’s also a significant shift.


“Happiness becomes more associated with balance – we talk about having children, having a family and even our bodies, perhaps because it’s the first time we’ve started to go ‘downhill’,” says Aaker.

4. Meaning

In our late 30s and throughout most of our 40s, we become much more focused on giving our lives purpose.

“Happiness becomes connected to a growing sense of meaning that comes with raising a family,” says Aaker.

We also look to nurture our sense of spirituality and feeling happy becomes tied to realising our place in the world and the impact we can have on others. (Post continues after gallery.)

5. Savouring

As we reach the end of our 40s, Aaker says happiness shifts to savouring.

“In this chapter happiness is tied to feeling content and connected – where we appreciate what we’ve achieved and what we have,” she explains.

This concept of gratefulness only increases as we get older, with happiness becoming increasingly associated with feeling ‘calm, blessed and lucky’. But while there is a pattern of progression through these chapters, Aaker says the order is not necessarily set in stone.

“Our meaning of happiness is constantly shaped and reshaped by small choices that we make every day – we can rewrite or edit these chapters,” she says.

“So much time in our lives is spent trying to get to the point where we can say ‘I feel happy’, but by better understanding these chapters, we can better understand the answers to the question ‘what makes us happy’.”

What is ‘happiness’ to you?