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Aging and the Pursuit of Happiness

As we age, frequent experiences such as spending time with friends and family tend to make us even happier than extraordinary experiences such as traveling to exotic locales. That is the findings of a study done by Amit Bhattacharjee at Dartmouth and Cassie Mogilner the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. The researchers explored the role of age regarding the happiness we feel from both the ordinary and the extraordinary experiences in our lives. Their article was published online in December 2013 in the Journal of Consumer Research and will be published in the print edition in June 2014.

A release from the publisher explains that across a series of eight studies, the authors asked participants to recall, plan, or imagine happy experiences in an attempt to draw a distinction between experiences that are ordinary (common and frequent) versus extraordinary (uncommon and infrequent). The researchers were specifically interested in testing their theory that younger people will associate extraordinary experiences with greater happiness than ordinary experiences.

In one study, over 200 participants from across the United States between the ages of 18 and 79 were asked to recall a recent extraordinary experience that made them happy. The researchers assigned the responses into 12 broad categories including spending time with others, life milestones, and travel. While responses from all age groups reported happiness in extraordinary experiences, study results indicated that happiness from ordinary experiences was more common in the older age demographic.

In their conclusion, the authors wrote: "Young people actively seeking to define themselves find it particularly rewarding to accumulate extraordinary experiences that mark their progression through life milestones. On the other hand, once people are older and have established a better sense of who they are, the experiences they view as self-defining are just as likely to include the routine daily events that reveal how they like to spend their time."   

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