STRANGE BUT TRUE- On the rebound: Why you'll be happy in your golden years


DRAWING BY DEBORAH DERR McCLINTOCK

Q. Across the life cycle, who should be happy about the recently publicized "u-shaped curve of happiness," and who might be unhappy?–E. Kelly

A. Obviously, there are many inputs at play here: Yet the amazing thing is the regularity and predictability of happiness reports, based on surveys covering two million people in 80 nations, from Bangladesh to Sweden to Chile, reports the "University of California-Berkeley Wellness Letter."

The key finding is that people tend to begin their young lives feeling relatively happy, but then midlife crises can undermine this and despair can peak. The happiness low point typically hits men at about age 40 and women at age 50. Then comes the remarkable rebound: "People in their sixties and seventies, if healthy physically, tend to be as happy as young people."

This pattern holds for both men and women, singles and marrieds, and those with or without children. Oddly, nobody knows why most of us are able to bounce back.

Maybe we just learn to adapt. Or maybe we finally give up unrealistic dreams. (Or it could just be that the cheerful and resilient live long enough to answer questions at age 70.) Whatever the reason, happiness's U-shapedness is something to keep in mind during the tough times, to know you're far from alone in your experience and to help you hang in there. 

Q. Gold, as you may know, is malleable (can be pounded into sheets), ductile (drawn into wires), and virtually indestructible. In what sense is gold "green," and in what sense is it not? Also, where can most of the metal be found these days?–I. Trump

A. Gold is eco-green in that windows in some apartment buildings are coated with it to help reflect sun in the summer and retain heat in the winter, says LeeAundra Temescu in Discover magazine. However, getting the metal is far from green since gold mines spew cyanide into waterways and nitrogen and sulfur oxides into the air. "In 2000, a cyanide spill at a Romanian mine made the local water for 2.5 million people undrinkable."

As for gold reserves, the U.S. has the world's biggest hoard. But if ornamentation is included, India takes the title– over 20 percent of the gold used decoratively worldwide is in the thread of Indian saris. Yet the largest reservoirs of gold aren't on the surface of the Earth but rather in the oceans– an estimated 10 billion tons. "Unfortunately, there is no practical way to get it out." 

Q. Weird newspaper contest: Choose a number from 0 to 100 and send it in; the winning entry will be 2/3 of the average of all entries, the prize $10,000. What number would you guess?–W. Hearst

A. If all guesses are random, then the average should be about 50, making 33 (2/3 of 50) a good guess, says Mark Buchanan in The Social Atom. But what if others are thinking along the same lines?

Then maybe you should guess 22, or 2/3 of 33. Of course, you can follow this reasoning indefinitely, ultimately leading to a guess of 0! Yet oddly, if everyone chooses 0, then all entries are exactly right, since 2/3 of 0 is 0.

When this contest was actually staged in London, a few people did choose 0, and quite a few chose 33 or 22. The overall average turned out to be 18.9, and the winner had chosen 13. Concluded Buchanan: "A rational economist would have been a certain loser– which is neither rational nor very smart."  

Interestingly, we all face choices of this sort every day. For example, driving to work you may try to avoid morning traffic by choosing a road others won't be taking. But countless others are trying to do the same thing, so there is no clear rational solution– unless you can read minds.

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Send strange questions to brothers Bill and Rich at strangetrue@compuserve.com.

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