Will You Find Happiness in the Three Stages of Life?

Bill Abbate

Photo by Arjohn Janroe Queral on Unsplash

When is the happiest time in the life of most people? Is it when they are young or during adulthood? Is it later in life, perhaps after retirement? Of course, it will vary depending on who you are, where you live, and the kind of life you lead. A multitude of other factors can affect how happy we are in life as well.

Let’s explore the possibilities of each stage of life. It will be necessary to make some assumptions as we do so, as one article cannot cover every possible situation. We are not going to discuss those who grew up in or are currently in an abusive situation. Instead, we will attempt to discuss a more average life for many people on the planet.

The early years

Many believe we are happiest in our youth. This is a time when we are relatively innocent and have usually experienced little trouble. Responsibilities tend to be few other than going to school and doing chores. Life is so much simpler at this point. There are always exceptions, but these things are true for most children.

During these mostly carefree years, we can develop many great memories. This is the time when worries are few, and the summers can seem endless.

“Youth comes but once in a lifetime.” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)


Working adulthood for many may or may not be a happy time in life. For some, it is great; for others, it isn’t. Experience teaches us it is often a mixture of good and challenging times.

Adulthood is a time of great responsibility for most. They will work diligently for several decades, with seemingly no end in sight. Some achieve significant advancement in their careers, while others do not.

During this time, we develop our own definition of success. Success is what we decide it to be unless we buy into someone else’s description.

As you pass the midpoint in your career, usually in your 40’s, you can begin experiencing life-changing events. Many of us start to reevaluate our life. For some, it turns into a mid-life crisis. During this time, someone you know, perhaps even someone close to you, may die, influencing this self-examination.

“As a man grows older he values the voice of experience more and the voice of prophecy less. He finds more of life’s wealth in the common pleasures-home, health, children. He thinks more about worth of men and less about their wealth. He begins to appreciate his own father a little more. He boasts less and boosts more. He hurries less, and usually makes more progress. He esteems the friendship of God a little higher.” Roy L. Smith (1887-1963)

Many are reasonably established in their career by now. From this point forward, the realization your career will one day end will affect your outlook. You will begin thinking more seriously about retirement.

During this second half, there is a high likelihood you will experience more deaths. One or more of them could be someone you know well and to whom you are very close. Unfortunately, this becomes a part of your reality.

For some, this can be a great time of happiness. You are living a decent lifestyle and are established in a community with a nice group of friends. While your responsibilities are no less and perhaps greater than in your earlier working years, you are better able to deal with them now.

“A well-ordered life is like climbing a tower; the view halfway up is better than the view from the base, and it steadily becomes finer as the horizon expands.“ William Lyon Phelps (1865-1943)

The later years

This should be the happiest time in life as you get off the work treadmill and have fewer responsibilities. Unfortunately, many people who were unable to save enough money to cover the way they wish to live in retirement will continue to work in some way. Yet, for those who are self-sufficient, this can truly be the happiest time of life. As you enter old age, the deaths continue to mount until you are so old, few are left alive. You will have outlived most of your contemporaries.

“The belief that youth is the happiest time of life is founded on a fallacy. The happiest person is the person who thinks the most interesting thoughts, and we grow happier as we grow older.” William Lyon Phelps (1865-1943)

Early on this can be a wonderful time in life. For some of us, to retire from work doesn’t mean we retire from life. Our life is just beginning. For those of us who like to keep active, the entire world is our playground. There is so much to learn. So much to experience.

“No one grows old by living-only by losing interest in living.” Marie Beynon Ray (1886-1969)

As we begin to enter old age (as we define it at this time – maybe around 80 and older), our body isn’t keeping up as well as our mind. We can see a day will come when we will not be as mobile as we once were. We start saying things like I need to go on this trip soon or take this cruise before my health gets too bad and I can’t enjoy it.

The funny thing is as many of us age, we may continue to think we have a great amount of time to live. It could be because we have always thought this way and have a difficult time seeing our end approaching. Or perhaps we live in denial. Whatever it is, if you ask most reasonably healthy older people how old they feel, it is always far younger than their actual age. They feel not a few years younger but several decades younger.

Even this latest time in life can be a time of real happiness. You can have many fond memories and enjoy the full weight of the life you have lived, of those you have loved, and of those who still love you.

Final words

Ultimately you define which stage is the happiest in your life. There is no reason all three stages can’t be enjoyable. As with everything in life, it is an individual choice as to how you live your life and how much you enjoy it.

You will usually get what you expect when it comes to life, so why not expect the best!

Heed this great piece of wisdom from one of my favorite people of all time:

“Expect the best. Prepare for the worst. Capitalize on what comes.” Zig Ziglar (1926-2012)

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Semi-Retired-Leadership/Executive Coach -Personal & Career Growth Expert -Editor and Leadership Writer at Illumination -Author

Richmond, VA

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