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18th May 2012

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Stages on Life’s Way: satisfaction index

The graph above I copied from Thomas P.M. Barnett’s blog, Take that! All the girls I was afraid to date in high school!, where it appeared without commentary; apparently Dr. Barnett felt that the graph spoke for itself. And so it does. I have apparently had a similar life experience (though I would not identify the blue line as “nerds”), since I find that, whatever my disappointments (and they are keen), my life continues to get better over time. I would not trade my life today for my life in my 20s for anything.

Recently, in a context that I have already forgotten, I came across one of those classic statements that sound so pathetic when one first hears them, in which the writer says how wonderful their life was when they were in school or college, and that it has never been as good for them since then. (Sorry I forgot the reference; this post would have been much better if I had had the quote.) I used to feel sorry for the kind of person who could make such a pathetic confession, but now I think differently.

It is to be expected that different persons of different temperaments will thrive and flourish under different circumstances, and that among the conditions that produce these different circumstances are the various stages of life. Some temperaments will flourish when young; others will flourish when they are old.

In other words, some temperaments are more likely to be suited to certain stages of life than other temperaments. Aristotle observed that we usually enjoy doing the things that we are good at. If you are good at being a child, you will probably enjoy childhood, and so on for adolescence, young adulthood, maturity, and old age. This sounds like an odd way to express the fact, as we don’t usually say that someone is “good at” being an adolescent, but I think that if you will at least consider this, you will find that it is accurate.

There is a frightening evocation of this in the film What ever happened to Baby Jane? Two sisters experience fame at different stages of life and these different experiences mark them for life.

There may be an evolutionary explanation for this which ties in which the above graph that represents “most people” as experiencing a drastic fall in life satisfaction past their twenties. Given the conditions under which we evolved into the species we presently are, it would make perfect sense that the vast majority of the species would experience its peak of life at that point in time when most individuals are reproducing. Once you’ve reproduced, natural selection is through with you and you become genetically invisible to history. Social consequences follow from this genetic invisibility, and among these is likely to be a fall in the status of the individual.

Tagged: life satisfactionhappinesslifeevolution


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