What Do 90-Somethings Regret Most? By Lydia Sohn.
I began each conversation by asking if they had any regrets. By this point, they’d lived long enough to look at life from multiple angles so I knew their responses would be meaningful. Most of their regrets revolved around their families. They wished relationships, either with their children or between their children, turned out differently. These relational fractures, I could see on their faces, still caused them much pain and sorrow. …
I then moved on to the happiest moments of their lives. Every single one of these 90-something-year-olds, all of whom are widowed, recalled a time when their spouses were still alive and their children were younger and living at home. As a busy young mom and working professional who frequently fantasizes about the faraway, imagined pleasures of retirement, I quickly responded, “But weren’t those the most stressful times of your lives?” Yes of course, they all agreed. But there was no doubt that those days were also the happiest.
Their responses intrigued me. They contradicted a well-known article on happiness in The Economist, “The U-bend of Life.” The article went viral in 2010 and was a common conversation topic among my family and friends. Its counter-intuitive yet completely reasonable analyses seemed to resonate with my generation.
The theory of the “U-bend” came about as researchers discovered consistent findings from several independent research projects on happiness and well-being around the world. They concluded that happiness, pleasure and enjoyment are most tenuous during the middle ages of life, starting in our 20s with depression peaking at 46 — which the author described as “middle-age-misery.” The happiness of youth however, not only returned but was experienced at higher levels in subjects’ 70s. Researchers hypothesized that middle-age-misery was due to the overwhelming number of familial, professional, and financial demands during these years. Following a happiness dip in middle age, researchers concluded that we become more self-accepting, less ambitious and more mindful of living in the present moment (instead of the future) as we approach our 70s. …
As someone entering the height of my career, I expend much more energy on work than on relationships. And when I imagine my future, I envision what I will have accomplished rather than the quality of my interactions with those who are most important to me. These 90-something-year-olds emphasize the opposite when they look back on their lives. Their joys and regrets have nothing to do with their careers, but with their parents, children, spouses, and friends. Put simply, when I asked one person, “Do you wish you accomplished more?” He responded, “No, I wished I loved more.”
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That U-bend theory sounds like something straight out of the feminist playbook — designed solely to get them more benefits, with little regard for truth.