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Researchers Say Depression in Middle Years Possibly Global Phenomenon


A new study shows that mid-life depression is not just a Western phenomenon. In fact, it is almost universal. But the good news is, it does not last forever. VOA's Carol Pearson has more on what researchers in the U.S. and Britain found about levels of happiness throughout life.

Researchers at Dartmouth College in the United States and the University of Warwick in Britain, scoured 35 years of data on more than two million people around the world and found a consistent pattern of happiness.

They say no matter what the culture, whether we live in rich countries or poor ones, most of us are the happiest in our 20s and 30s, and then, again, after age 50. People in their 40s, especially their mid-40s, are the least happy.

One of the researchers, economist Andrew Oswald says he can only guess why. He says, "The most plausible theory is that at the start of life, we have very high aspirations, very high expectations, and it's painful through our 30s and until the mid-40s to let those go."

Gail Harris had so much difficulty in her mid-40s that she established a Web venture about aging, health and spirituality. "You start assessing where you are and wondering if that's all there is?" she wondered. "Could you be happier? Something almost magical and mysterious happens as you round the bend to 50."

The researchers say our lives generally look like a U-curve with age 44 right at the bottom before we start experiencing happiness again. Professor Oswald explains, "People cut themselves a little slack. They accept that they're not going end up the general manager of their company. They're not going to win the Nobel Prize."

But that does not mean people settle for less, says therapist Susan Bluestone. "It's different. It's really understanding who you are and what you really can accomplish in life."

Professor Oswald says the unhappiness stems from something inside us, and there is not much we can do to avoid it. But he adds, if we make it past our 40s, we can expect to once again enjoy life to the fullest.

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