At Your Peak or Over the Hill – Assessing Your Life

At Your Peak or Over the Hill – Assessing Your Life

As I have mentioned before, your mind is a powerful thing when it comes to your health.  If you think you are in the prime of your life, you probably are.  If you think you are over the hill, you probably are.  When it gets down to it,  the way you think is up to you.

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.” ― Henry Ford

Definition of Life Satisfaction

Life satisfaction is your personal assessment of how you see your life now and where you think its going.  Are you satisfied or not?  Researchers have identified many components that are involved in this overall assessment including mood, satisfaction with personal relationships, self concept, ability to cope,  openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.   I’ll talk about some of these parameters in this article.

Measures of Life Satisfaction

Now, to mess with your mind a bit before I get back to the above thesis,  let’s take a quick look at what research has shown about various life satisfaction measures that change as we age:
Happy Swimmer

  • Fitness:  If short sprints and games like soccer are your thing,  you’ll probably be in your prime before age 30 and out of the game by age 60.  However, if you are into distance running or swimming, you may peak at around age 40, but still be in the game beyond age 80.
  • Brain Functions: The ability to add and retain information in memory peaks around age 20 and gradually declines to the end of life.  However,  people are still gaining on total knowledge to nearly age 60.  While that retained knowledge tends to drop off over time, people are well over 80 when the decline gets them to the level of knowledge they had at age 20 (yes indeed, the oldsters have forgotten more than the youngsters have ever learned).
  • Sex: Even though men tend to want a bit more sex than they get and women tend to get a bit more sex than they want, the desire for sexual relations and actually having sex seems to match pretty well throughout life.  It doesn’t matter whether you are 20 or 70.

Of course the measures described above are averages across many people.  Further,  they peak at different times of life and rise and fall at different rates.  Beyond that, every individual that contributed to the average has a different trajectory with regard to these factors.  Theoretically, all of these factors, and many more, play on an individual’s level of life satisfaction.  So,  do a quick life satisfaction assessment using these factors as well as your social situation, your job satisfaction, your physical activity level and your age and see where you sit with regard to each of the measures above and note how satisfied you are with your life at the moment.  Next, we’ll compare your findings to the average of a large group of people of different ages.

Satisfaction Over a Lifetime

Research has shown that, on the average, life satisfaction tends to drop after high school to about age 45.  Then, satisfaction heads back up to a lifetime peak around age 70 until it again drops off toward the end of life.  By that measure the prime of life is at age 70 – perhaps life does begin at retirement.
How does your level of satisfaction relate to that overall average for your age (tell me in the comments below)?  At my age, 64, I should be heading toward my lifetime peak and already be far above my satisfaction levels from earlier in life.  I can buy that, but at the moment I have a cold and my life isn’t particularly satisfying because of it.  While the cold is temporary,  it does bring up health as an important aspect of life satisfaction.

Health and Happiness

I’ve talked about the importance of exercise before and also pointed out a fountain of youth you can buy, or get for free.  Following up on the ideas in these articles will go a long way toward improving and maintaining your health as you age.  Good health makes most of the measures of life satisfaction better and contributes greatly to your overall level of life satisfaction.

Your Mind and Your Disposition

As I mentioned up front, your mind is the final ingredient that makes or breaks your level of life satisfaction.  If you tell yourself that you are clearly below that overall average line for life satisfaction at your age because you are not fit, not healthy, getting too much or too little sex, hate your job, hate your lack of a job, have no friends or whatever, you will believe it and you will act it out in your life.  Your life satisfaction will indeed be lower than the average.   On the other hand, if you assess yourself as being well satisfied, the behaviors in your life will reflect that.  If you feel low on the life satisfaction scale and know you can do better, you can begin to take some steps that will improve your health and fitness and ultimately enhance all elements of your life experience.

Scientist refer to the way you assess your life as your ‘disposition.’  While your genetics contribute some to your disposition, they point out: “What happens after birth and what conclusions people draw from their experiences also profoundly affect people’s job and life happiness.” [1]  Key factors associated with your disposition are:

  • Self-Esteem: how you value yourself as a person
  • Self- Efficacy: how capable you think you are with regard to the actions and behaviors needed to have general control of the events of your life
  • Locus of Control: whether you believe you are in control of the events of your life or that these are controlled by an outside force (environment, government, other people, fate, god etc.).
  • Neuroticism: how anxiety, fear, moodiness, worry, envy, frustration, jealousy, and loneliness play in your life

After carefully assessing these factors and their relationship to life satisfaction,  the authors say:

“The most important finding of this study is that core evaluations of the self have consistent effects on job satisfaction, independent of the attributes of the job itself. That is, the way in which people see themselves affects how they experience their jobs and even their lives.  Thus people who consider themselves worthy and able to cope with life’s exigencies bring a ‘positive frame’ to the events and situations they encounter, whereas people who do not see themselves as worthy and able, bring a negative frame to the same situations.”

Getting to a Satisfying Life

The bottom line: what you think about yourself and your life directly affects your level of satisfaction in your life.  The thing is, you can change your disposition (or attitude) if you wish.  There are lots of ‘self-help’ books that aim to improve your level of life satisfaction by helping you adjust various aspects of your disposition.  Here are a few books that might help:


1. Timothy A. Judge, Edwin A. Locke and Cathy C. Durham. Dispositional Effects on Job and Life Satisfaction: The Role of Core Evaluations. Journal of Applied Psychology. 1998, Vol. 83, No. 1, 17-34

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