Weekly challenge: Think about what brings you happiness, and how that’s changed with age

I was happy to see that the U.S. ranks a respectable 17th out of 156 countries for happiest people on earth in a new ranking released by the United Nations. For all those doubters who think the results are skewed in favor of pleasure-seeking hedonistic folks—which America may have a lopsided percentage of—the pollsters defined happiness as life satisfaction, rather than how good a person feels at any given moment.

Life satisfaction was measured by having a healthy life expectancy, close friends or family members to provide support, perceived freedom to make life choices, generosity, and living in a society free of corruption.

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Those can certainly increase your level of happiness, but this week you also may want to consider how your personal satisfaction—or dissatisfaction—with life has changed as you age. I read a great article in the September issue of Health magazine arguing that “calm is the new happy” for anyone over age 40.

“Happiness stopped being the high-energy, ecstatic experience of a wild night out with my friends and morphed into the more peaceful, relaxing experience of an overworked parent who dreams of putting her feet up and enjoying a good book,” Heidi Grant Halvorson, a psychologist at Columbia University’s Motivation Science Center, wrote in the piece.

She said the happiness metamorphosis is actually quite common and results from a shift in motivation that occurs as we head into middle-age. We move from being largely motivated by “promotion” or self-advancement to being motivated by “prevention” or a maintenance of whatever it takes to run our lives smoothly; we’re looking to feel in control as well as financially and emotionally secure. It’s what makes people finally settle down with the house in the ‘burbs.

This week, take a few minutes to contemplate what brings you the most happiness in life. Are you motivated by promotion or prevention? Are you meeting the goals that promise to fulfill what you desire?