The Midlife Crises Of Great Apes Could Explain Human Happiness

Chimp wide

It’s well established that humans’ well-being dips in midlife, and new research indicates that the same thing happens to chimps and orangutans.

This indicates that our happiness throughout life could be based on our evolutionarily shared biology, instead of social or economic factors.

“We hoped to understand a famous scientific puzzle: why does human happiness follow an approximate U-shape through life?,” study researcher Andrew Oswald, of the University of Warwick, said in a statement from the institution. “We ended up showing that it cannot be because of mortgages, marital breakup, mobile phones, or any of the other paraphernalia of modern life. Apes also have a pronounced midlife low, and they have none of those.”

The study was published today, Nov. 19 in the journal Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences. The researchers analysed the happiness of 336 chimpanzees and 172 organutans of different ages and living all around the world. They used the animal keeper’s knowledge of their animals to determine how happy they were at different points in their life.

The results are stunningly similar to the U-shaped curve of well-being over the human lifespan. Well-being starts high, dips in mid-life, then rises again in old age — a pattern that is consistent over different happiness measures and all types of cultures and locations.

Researchers aren’t sure why this is true, but there are some theories. Most of these currently revolve around social and economic issues, the researchers said, though the ape data might mean it’s something else entirely, possibly in our shared biology with our evolutionary relatives.

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