Happiness begins at 33
In the movie Into the Wild, screened on SBS this weekend, 23 year old Christopher McCandless abandons his possessions, burns his birth certificate, gives his life savings to charity and hitchhikes his way to Alaska.
It’s a bold and somewhat romantic journey of self-discovery about fighting the inner demon, across a variety of incredibly picturesque parts of rural America. A kind of idyllic and over-blown version of what many people experience as they come of age in their twenties. Except that in this version, the journey of self-discovery ends in tragedy.
After three years on the road, and several encounters with people from all walks of life, McCandless dies starving, alone and trapped in the wilderness, having just realised that the secret to real happiness is a life that’s shared with others.
It’s a desperate ending and a disquieting film. One that left me in turns questioning whether his journey was either a) a sheer waste of life that could have been avoided had he chosen to return home at some point and face the wedge he felt with his parents. And b) an admiration for his courage, ingenuity and ability to live without so much of what we’re told we need in modern life.
The lesson of the film however is clear and important: the happiest of lives are those shared with others. It also goes some way to proving the science behind recent research from an English social-networking site that has found people are most happy from age 33 onwards.
Psychologist Donna Dawson told Time Magazine, the findings prove that by the age of 33 most of us have shaken off our childhood naiveté and replaced it with a strong sense of reality, hope and a can-do attitude, and a belief in our talents and abilities.
That’s a good summation. But it’s not perfect. Most people by the age of thirty have acquired a whole lot of other things that makes it easy to believe that they’re happier than at earlier times of their life.
As someone fast approaching her 33rd birthday, here’s what I’d add to the list. At around 33 you are likely to:
- Be more comfortable in your own skin. By the time you make it to thirty, the awkward teenage years are long behind you, but so too are the often manic twenties. Where you’re trying to pull absolutely everything from job, education, friends, love relationships altogether at once.
It’s okay to be who you want to be. And if that person is more inclined to stay at home and watch Grand Designs on a Sunday night, than head out to the beer garden, then that’s good and well. It’s also easier to put your foot down and not succumb to so much groupthink or peer pressure about weekend activities and holidays.
- Have formed a clear sense of direction. You’ve usually finished studying and any kind of long-term travel is either a holiday or a long-term stay in another country. In other words, you’ve put down some sort of roots and you’re more comfortable with the idea of committing to a five year plan in several areas of your life.
- You’ve got some money behind you. If it’s not savings, a house or a car, it’s at least a full time job and that gives you options and independence. You can live where you want, see who you want, and make plans.
- Trust your own life experience. Whether that’s from within the workplace, relationships, friendships, travel or just general interactions with other people. All of these experiences give you insight, understanding, sometimes empathy and just a sense that you’re not always taking off into new ground.
How much does this ring true for you? And how about older Punch readers, was 33 an age that you’ll remember or is the best yet to come?
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