"Overall, people got it wrong, believing that most people become less happy as they age, when in fact this study and others have shown that people tend to become happier over time," says Lacey, lead author of the study, published in the Journal of Happiness Studies. "Not only do younger people believe that older people are less happy, but older people believe they and others must have been happier 'back then.' Neither belief is accurate."
People in the older group reported a current level of happiness for themselves that was significantly higher than the self-rating made by the younger group's members, the researchers say. But participants of all ages thought that the average 30-year-old would be happier than the average 70-year-old, and that happiness would decline with age.
If that were truly the case, the older participants would have rated themselves much less happy than the younger participants, and they didn't, according to the study.
Interestingly, nearly all the participants thought they would be happier in old age than their friends.
Why? Ubel calls it the "Lake Wobegon effect," with apologies to Garrison Keillor. All the children can't be above average. Mathematically, it just won't work.
But nobody wants to be average, whether it's at driving a car or feeling happy. We want to be better than the other guy. In other words, we're proud of ourselves.
"That's a good thing, and it may be part of what makes people healthy and happy," Ubel says. "They've managed to convince themselves that they're better than average."
Ubel, who's also an adjunct professor of psychology at the university, has a short formula that might contribute to his happiness.
"I just have a lot of things that I'm interested in and that make me happy," says Ubel.
He's been that way for a long time.
"I remember in college, and those are days that can try people emotionally, walking across campus one day thinking I just couldn't remember the last time I was unhappy."
And if his research is on target, even though his hair may fall out and his joints fail, the best years are still ahead. At least in terms of happiness.