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Happiness and Your Third Act

Curve of happinness

Live Like You Can

By Mary Muller

If you ask someone to describe the happiest people around, chances are they will often focus on the young. The years from childhood through young adult life are assumed to be the most contented times, full of joy and hope for the future. According to scientists who study happiness, to some extent this is true.

A curious thing begins to happen from youth to middle age. It’s a downhill trajectory to the time we associate with mid-life crisis. Then as age increases, people begin to be happier with a steady upward climb all the way into the eighth decade. This pattern is known as the U curve of happiness, with reported happiness high at the beginning of life then lowest at middle age then going up during the 60s. The highest levels of reported happiness occur in the 80s.

The high happiness time is a part of the life cycle we call the Third Act. It is a time with specific challenges and opportunities for happiness, contentment, new experiences, and a greater spiritual focus.

Unfortunately, many of our ideas about aging tend to be out of synch with the research. Much of what we think about aging focuses on loss, a time of lower energy, poorer health, less physical attractiveness, and reduced mental sharpness. But the outside view of aging is very different from the way things appear from the inside. In a study of 30-year-old and 70-year-old perspectives, both groups thought people in the 30s are happiest. Yet the 70-year-old group rated their current well being much higher than the 30-year-olds.  How does this happiness change occur? There are several hypotheses. One is the possibility that we change our focus from ambition to enjoyment and have increased happiness. Another is we may have greater appreciation of the good things we have as we age.

In a series of workshops run by Janis McDonald and me in San Miguel, we see very exciting and positive patterns. The workshop is based on a process to help women design their best possible Third Act. Working with a small group of motivated women, each participant goes through structured exercises to identify the parts of her life she wants to work on.

Through the two-day workshop, the focus is on personal strengths, which will help bring about change. We teach a process for determining the path one wants. We provide easy-to-use tools to structure the first active steps and keep track of how one is moving forward. It may sound simple, but it is hard work!

The positive changes after the workshop have been impressive. If you are interested in working with other women who are committed to having the best possible Third Act, please get in touch with us. Workshops are held throughout the year.

You can reach me via email at and you can contact my partner Janis McDonald at For more information visit


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