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The Research Finding on Happiness that Really Surprised Me

July '19

I was intrigued by the findings of a study that recently turned up in JSTOR Daily. Economist Tomáš Janotík surveyed the happiness level of 154 nuns from sixteen Benedictine monasteries across Germany. He then compared their responses to those from a nationwide survey of all women, and specifically, Catholic women in Germany.

As the article reported, “Perhaps most surprisingly, the nuns defied a pattern in human happiness that’s extremely common across human societies. Social scientists have found that, on average, adults experience a decline in life satisfaction in middle age, which then reverses itself later in life. That’s sometimes described as a happiness U-curve. In the data for German women, life satisfaction declined between ages forty and sixty and then recovered. For the nuns, however, this measure of happiness continued rising fairly steadily throughout their adult lives.”

While no further study was noted to explain this happy deviation from the norm for nuns, the authors did eliminate the variables of marriage and children. As the article notes, “… Janotík found that the happiness curves for unmarried and childless woman among the general German population look a lot more like the U-curve than like the continuing upward slope of the nuns.”

I suspect one factor responsible for this increasing happiness level might be the ongoing presence of a community. Social connections play critical role in our happiness level. For this reason, one of the 7 skills I help readers develop in my book Midlife Magic: The 7 Day Self-Care Plan to Boost Your Energy and Make You Smile, is “Supportive Connections”.

On Day 3, you find me traveling in Lesotho with a former boss and his wife after months of traveling in foreign lands without the presence of family, friends, colleagues, or even acquaintances. As I describe in the book,

 Bill, his wife Caroline, another educator, our driver, and I reached Molimo Nthuse Lodge after a visit to the capital city of Maseru. Only a seasoned and talented driver could have negotiated the one lane mountain road that brought us here. A look out the car window revealed a perilous drop should the car veer even a few feet to the left. Furthermore, any car coming the other way had no choice but to backup for miles, because there were no    lay-byes.

 I never did figure out what rule determined who backed up when, but I didn’t care. I wasn’t driving, nor directing the driver. I didn’t have to be sure we were going the right way, or quietly pray in the back seat that the driver   was truly headed for the destination I requested. I didn’t have to make the reservations at this lodge, nor, more accurately, ask some hotel operator to make them. I was ensconced here in this comforting lodge, where I didn’t have to navigate anything on my own, and most of all I was with people I knew.

This break in my travels with an old friend (boss) and his wife provided some much-needed support on my midlife journey around the world. Their company helped to propel me forward onto India, the next stop my journey, where I would yet again be navigating another foreign land on my own.

At midlife, your own Supportive Connections can help move you forward into unfamiliar territory as you reinvent your life, in the same way they helped me. This takes conscious effort. In Midlife Magic, I offer 10 possible actions steps you could take to develop your own Supportive Connections. Here’s #3.

Plan a get-away with some old friends who are spread across the country or world. Gathering at a get-away spot removes everyone from the daily chores of cooking and cleaning. Or if a spa weekend does not fit into your life, a simple phone call to say hello to an old friend, or a conference call with your girl gang might just put some spring back in your step and theirs too.

Summer might be a perfect time for this action step—or even winter if you live in the Southern Hemisphere, because any time is a good time to build Supportive Connections. As The New York Time’s once noted in a headline, “Social Interaction Is Critical for Mental and Physical Health.”

Good luck with developing this self-care skill!

P.S. If you can think of other reasons, nuns might display steadily increasing levels of happiness as they age, I’d love to hear them. I have a couple more, myself


  1. Lisa Udel said on July 31, 2019:

    Hi Bonnie, I just ordered your book. Looking forward to reading it.
    Hope you are well.

  2. Roberta Taylor said on July 31, 2019:

    At age 84, I find myself with a level of contentment that is extremely comfortable. I was extremely lonely when my husband died, and I felt lonely after a failed relationship after that. I find myself no longer lonely and I recognize that I really do not want a relationship again, but rather have friendships. Maintaining a relationship is work. Maintaining a friendship is easier. There are fewer expectations and I feel like I have more right to voice my preferences. I have lots of friendships, many of them from decades ago. I also have the satisfaction of having a purpose in life in my volunteer work.

  3. Bonnie said on October 16, 2019:

    Hi Roberta!
    Thanks for sharing these ideas on friendship. I think “supportive connections” become even more important as we age.

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