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The Happiness Curve

Why Life Gets Better After 50

Jonathan Rauch

Thomas Dunne Books

The Happiness Curve Download image

ISBN10: 1250078806
ISBN13: 9781250078803


256 Pages



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Why does happiness get harder in your 40s? Why do you feel in a slump when you’re successful? Where does this malaise come from? And, most importantly, will it ever end?

Drawing on cutting-edge research, award-winning journalist Jonathan Rauch answers all these questions. He shows that from our 20s into our 40s, happiness follows a U-shaped trajectory, a “happiness curve,” declining from the optimism of youth into what’s often a long, low slump in middle age, before starting to rise again in our 50s.

This isn’t a midlife crisis, though. Rauch reveals that this slump is instead a natural stage of life—and an essential one. By shifting priorities away from competition and toward compassion, it equips you with new tools for wisdom and gratitude to win the third period of life.

And Rauch can testify to this personally because it was his own slump, despite acclaim as a journalist and commentator that compelled him to investigate the happiness curve. His own story and the stories of many others from all walks of life—from a steelworker and a limo driver to a telecoms executive and a philanthropist—show how the ordeal of midlife malaise reboots our values and even our brains for a rebirth of gratitude.


Praise for The Happiness Curve

"The Happiness Curve is about a midlife transition that empirical life-time studies and 'big data' have demonstrated to be just as reliable a finding as was Stanley Hall’s ground breaking 1907 definition of 'adolescence.' In order to demonstrate that our psychological well-being declines until the fifth decade and then steadily improves, Rauch not only provides illustrative case histories—always scientifically suspect if reassuring—but also reviews authoritative lifespan studies, ranging from primatology to neurophysiology, from demography to frequency of mood altering medication use. With maturity, gratitude becomes easier, and 'giving it away' becomes a source of joy, rather than a life sentence of 'letting go.'”—George E. Vaillant MD, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, director of the Grant Study of Adult Development, and author of Triumphs of Experience.

"In a youth-obsessed culture, it may be difficult to convince some that life gets better after 50. But by supplanting dated cliches with compelling scholarship, Rauch offers a fresh and reassuring vision of aging that supersedes superficial fixations."The Washington Post

"Rauch fills his book with reassuring research on why a midlife malaise is normal, as well as some sound lessons on how to cultivate happiness in general."The Wall Street Journal

"It’s a great paradox of happiness: The decades when we experience our greatest worldly success are also when our happiness craters. Why are middle-aged people so miserable? Jonathan Rauch tackles the question in this helpful, rigorous, and fun book."—Arthur Brooks, President, American Enterprise Institute

"Jonathan Rauch has taken the midlife crisis and transformed it into the kinder, gentler happiness curve. He pierces the old, cliche-ridden landscape of broken marriages and red sports cars, and replaces it with a new and rich understanding of the natural lifecyle. The Happiness Curve is a helpful travel guide through the middle and later years that will be passed from one generation to another with the reassuring message: 'it gets better.'”—Ellen Goodman

“Psychologists agree that the midlife crisis is a myth. But why are so many middle-aged people so dissatisfied with their lives? Sifting through happiness studies and conducting his own interviews and surveys, Rauch discovers a pattern.”Booklist

“Journalist Rauch (Political Realism) argues for a 'happiness curve' to life—a common, U-shaped path from youthful idealism, through middle-aged disappointment, to eventual happiness—in this inspired take on midlife crises.’”Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads


Read an Excerpt



Thomas Cole’s journey—and mine

Karl is forty-five years old. He is a successful professional who works with a nonprofit organization in a major American city. He has a PhD,...

About the author

Jonathan Rauch

JONATHAN RAUCH, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, is the author of several books and many articles on public policy, culture, and government. A recipient of the 2005 National Magazine Award, he’s a contributing editor of The Atlantic. He has also written for The New Republic, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post, among many other publications. He lives with his husband in Washington, DC.

Richard A. Bloom

Jonathan Rauch

Official Links

Read Jonathan Rauch at The Atlantic