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Why we're happiest at ages 23 and 69


Cici Kavanagh. Photo by Kyran O'Brien

Cici Kavanagh. Photo by Kyran O'Brien

Mary Kenny. Photo by Tony Gavin

Mary Kenny. Photo by Tony Gavin

Mary White. Photo by Dave Meehan

Mary White. Photo by Dave Meehan

Stephen Byrne. Photo by Dave Meehan

Stephen Byrne. Photo by Dave Meehan


Cici Kavanagh. Photo by Kyran O'Brien

Like any good rollercoaster the dash through life contains many highs, a few lows but at least two massive pinnacles which make the ticket-price worthwhile.

Often one of the peaks comes near the start of the ride, the other on the return to the flashing kiosk.

Academics at the London School of Economics now say they know exactly when these summits are reached in terms of life satisfaction and happiness.

A new study, conducted by the School's Centre for Economic Performance, found that we're most satisfied at the ages of 23 and 69.

Using 23,161 participants, ranging in age from 17 to 85, the body of research also concluded that we're at our gloomiest at the age of 55.

It's claimed that 23-year-olds are less cynical -- they look to their future with confidence and positivity without the watchful eyes of parents over their shoulder at every move.

Everything is possible, the great job, the perfect body, the fast car, the beautiful partner . . . it's all there to be claimed.

By the mid-50s, we realise that the dream was somewhat utopian in construct.

However, we're told that by the time we reach 69, regrets and mistakes are gleefully discarded to the bosca bruscair of time as we decide, instead, to enjoy each day and not to get bogged down with frivolous thoughts and unnecessary concerns.

We prioritise long lunches, walks along the beach and keeping our friends close.

So is there any reason to believe that this research borders on the accurate?

I spoke with two well-known Irish personalities from both vintages and asked if they thought their age is worth singing about?

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  • Mary Kenny
    Columnist, author and playwright

I don't believe everything I read in surveys, but there is some plausible research indicating that people tend to get happier as they grow older.

Paul Green of Saga, the organisation which caters to oldies' travel arrangements and suchlike, says, perhaps surprisingly, that people in their 60s are more content because they're less materialistic.

Friends have become more important than possessions -- "rather than valuing that new car and other trinkets and baubles, the things that are important are the friends". I can identify with that. I have almost completely given up my ambition to possess a Mercedes sports car!

I suppose there is a lot of serenity in coming to know and accept yourself -- a discovery made through trial and error, mostly error. I've been prey, during my lifetime, to a number of complete delusions. I thought I was a great dancer, for instance. I wasn't: I was useless. I thought I was a hot sexy piece, too: I wasn't -- I was just drunk and ridiculous.

I thought I was independent-minded, but actually I was often very influenced by other people. You do a lot of things, in your youth, and even middle age, just to please other people, or because you think it's expected of you.

Getting to 69 means you have more confidence about your own values, your own tastes and priorities. For example, I thought that I liked raucous parties, but I discovered gradually that I don't, really.

What I like is good conversation and an interesting evening with someone, or a group of people, who have something to say.

Only unreflective people claim that "I have no regrets" (the Edith Piaf song is ironic, if you translate it properly). I have lots of regrets, and I've never got over my chippy resentment at not having gone to university as a young person. I feel I've never been able to develop properly as an intellectual, in consequence. But being 69, I accept that this was my karma. I did see an alluring motto on a postcard recently. "I've learned so much from my mistakes, I think I'll make another one." Very tempting indeed!

  • Mary White
    Senator, business woman and mother

It really does sound like a cliché but I can honestly say, with hand on heart, that I feel I'm getting better as I get older, that I've come into my peak.

As a politician I think all the experiences I've been through in my 69 years, good and bad, have led me to become more self-confident and tenacious.

I've got to a stage now where I don't waste emotional energy if there's no need for it. I'm very passionate about what I do, but I know not to allow that passion to spill over.

For example, if a political rival takes a swipe at me, I realise that there's absolutely no point in taking that to heart -- it's part and parcel of politics. Experience, also gained in business, teaches you that.

It does frustrate me when people moan about their age -- I mean if you've been around for a good few years, you should be congratulating yourself -- not complaining about the number on the birthday card.

Over the years I've also learnt to be prudent in how I look after myself. I try not to burn the candle at both ends, not always an easy task in politics. Where I can get an early night, I do, and I absolutely adore mornings and the light each one brings.

I'd decided that even if the people voted to abolish the Seanad I was going to stay involved in politics. As the Fianna Fáil spokesperson on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, I have so many ideas I feel should be explored.

I know I'm at my best now... so yes, 69 is a wonderful age.



  • Stephen Byrne
    RTÉ TV presenter and video blogger

The big thing for me about being 23 is that I feel I finally know who I really am and that gives greater confidence.

When you're a teenager I think there's a huge pressure there to conform. Despite the fact I was making online videos in my bedroom since I was 17 and they were being viewed by huge audiences across the world (Byrne's 3sixty5days YouTube channel has over 70,000 subscribers), I was still basically a shy teenager.

I've been in RTÉ for six years now, present Two Tube and also work on The Voice of Ireland as the backstage reporter. A few years ago I would have laughed at the suggestion I'd be doing all of that.

A lot of my friends who are 23 are coming out of college now and for them this is something of a daunting time -- as there are so few jobs about. I'm very lucky to have my work with RTÉ and my video blogging.

I also think that over the last couple of years I've become more confident speaking with those older than me, be they colleagues or Hollywood A-listers. Now at 23, I'm less intimidated by the big stars.

It's an important age and juncture in my life, I think, both personally and professionally, but everything's going brilliantly and the future is bright.

  • Cici Cavanagh
    Model, DJ and star of RTÉ Reality TV programme 'Fade Street'

I turn 23 this month and it was only when I stopped and thought about my age that I realised it's pretty good.

Like most people, when they're 23, you don't stop and think objectively that this age is great -- you don't see it when you're in it, I suppose.

I guess for me there are two main reasons why this age has been coined as one of the happiest there is. For one, you're in the prime of your adult life -- the teenage years are over and most people have flown the nest.

You're liberated to a degree -- you can go explore and travel, develop careers, ideas and make your own path in life.

For most, 23 is also well before the age of marriage, if people decide to do that, or having children, so it's a time for the individual.

Personally I think it's only in the last year or so that I've become more content with who I am. As a model and a DJ, life can be stressful, but I seek that out and try to be successful, so inevitably there are ups and downs.

I just finished a five-month stint in Ibiza playing in the top nightclubs, Space and Sankeys. It was my second season there.

It's wonderful and a bit crazy -- you become totally nocturnal.

My world can be a little hectic at times but I chose that and I love what each day brings.

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