Are our 30s the ‘golden age’ of life?

Rita de Brun was a widow before 40, so she is sceptical of research that says we are happiest at any particular time. It’s different for everyone. Some people thrive later, into their 60s and 70s. We asked three celebrities in their prime if they were less or more content now.

Are our 30s the ‘golden age’ of life?

EARLY THIRTIES is the best time of your life, say researchers at Friends Reunited, the British social-networking site. But that wasn’t true for me.

I assumed by my 30s that I would be finished with college, satisfactorily ensconced in an engaging career, happily married, and possibly raising a family.

Yes, I had the education, the career and the family, but widowhood had put the happy marriage behind me, and had left my four children with neither the companionship nor the influence of their wonderfully kind and thoroughly brilliant father.

Was this the best time of my life? Certainly not. Was it the worst? Only time can tell. Either way, for me, the notion that any particular age is for everyone, irrespective of circumstance, the best or the worst of times, is ludicrous.

In the Friends Reunited study, 70% of respondents said they had not been not ‘truly happy’ until they were 33.

If this is so, it’s alarming, given that University of Virginia clinical psychologist, Meg Jay, said that 80% of life’s defining moments occur by the age of 35.

If we consider that artist Picasso arguably painted his best work in his 20s, filmmaker Orson Welles peaked at 25, and novelist Joseph Heller began writing Catch 22 at 30, then maybe Jay has a point.

But if she has, her assertion is difficult to prove. After all, TS Eliot was 47 when he wrote The Wasteland, Alfred Hitchcock directed arguably his best movies while in his 50s, and Cezanne painted many of his finest works while in his 60s. Yet, what’s finest and best in life is, like Jay’s ‘defining moments,’ subjective.

As for those who assert to researchers that true happiness evaded them for their first 32 years, who are these people? Who engages in this sort of naval-gazing and reaches a conclusion like that?

Apart from the jaw-dropping misery of dismissing more than three decades of one’s life as less than joyous, did any of the respondents contemplate, before responding, the halcyon days of their childhood, when innocence enabled them to experience happiness at a level that can only be guessed at in later years?

Perhaps not everyone is entirely truthful when approached by researchers. As for the reliability of internet surveys, not all are the sound barometers of public opinion that Gallup polls tend to be. But that’s not to suggest that the Friends Reunited survey wasn’t conducted professionally. Doubtless it was, and that’s more than can be said for the research carried out at a Dublin department store a few years ago.

There, researchers offered a packet of crisps to anyone who said that they preferred a particular brand to its competitors. Depressingly, if unsurprisingly, an orderly queue was formed and hordes of conscienceless consumers grasped the proffered bribes while uttering the required words.

It’s likely that novelist F Scott Fitzgerald would have laughed at research that heralds the early 30s as a truly happy time.

For him, the occasion of turning 30 marked “the promise of a decade of loneliness, a thinning list of single men to know, a thinning briefcase of enthusiasm, thinning hair.”

Most women would share his viewpoint, but for different reasons. For them, the onset of 30 marks the trading of the inherent beauty of youth for the wisdom of age.

And while they may feel stoic about that when in their 60s or older, the likelihood is that for women in their 30s, 40s, and 50s, aging is welcomed only in so far as it’s better than the alternative.

Are the early 30s a truly happy time? Glenda Gilson, Anton Savage and Jasmine Hemsley say they are.

Glenda Gilson (34); Co-presents Xpose on TV3

“I find that the older we become, the better we get on in life. In my 20s, I had a big group of pals all asking what I was doing at the weekend. Now, I socialise with real friends, many of whom I’ve been hanging around with since my school days.

“Professionally, people in their 30s are taken more seriously than those in their 20s, probably because we gain more knowledge with each passing year.

“Lots of girls in their late 20s worry if they don’t have a job they like or a partner they’re happy with. They fear these things will never happen for them. But, in my experience, it just happens.

"I, too, used to say to myself: ‘I wonder if I’ll ever get married’. But then it happened. I found the man of my dreams and married him.

“Now, I’m more content than I ever was. I couldn’t be happier, and even though I still get texts from friends inviting me to join them on a night out, I tend to spend Friday and Saturday nights at home watching TV with my husband, and the rest of the weekend either catching up on sleep or cleaning the house.

“My life used to be all about friends and going out, now family and work are my priorities. I imagine my lifestyle will change again when I hit my 40s. Whatever life brings, I’m not afraid. For me, age is just a number. I’m looking forward to whatever the future holds for me.”

Anton Savage (37); Today FM broadcaster

“I definitely felt more chilled-out and slightly more in control by the time I hit my early 30s. That probably had something to do with reaching goals I set in my 20s. Establishing landmarks brings great freedom.

“That said, early 30s can be a scary age. In my early 20s, I looked at guys of my vintage who played sport for a living and told myself I might have a shot at making my sports dreams come true if I really got back into it.

"Ten years later, those guys, now leading sports people, were talking about retirement because of imminent old age.

“I deeply resent the age at which sports people retire. It permanently closes the dream for the rest of us, who then have to face the fact that the green jersey may never be ours.

"This generates a bit of a pang, initially, but, as time goes by, and you hear more and more sportspeople say the same thing, that pang is replaced by acceptance.

“As for whether early 30s are the happiest, most optimistic time, I suspect that for young men in their early 20s, there’s the feeling that no longer being a teenage boy is a great thing. In that same way, being 20 years away from being a teenage boy is even better.

“By the time you reach your early 30s, chances are that most will have established the kind of life they want and will be less unhinged than they were in their early 20s. Now that’s not a bad spot to be in.”

Jasmine Hemsley (35) One half of Hemsley + Hemsley and co-author of The Art of Eating Well

When I started modelling, I was the baby of the team. I got used to that. Then, one day I made a comment about an advert and another model said ‘how old are you, anyway?’ I realised, then, that I was the oldest in the room. That felt pretty weird.

The prospect of reaching 30 was a big deal for me, so much so that once I hit 29 I told everyone who asked my age that I’d be 30 the following year. I wanted to shock people, and I did, as I didn’t look my age.

At 30, I looked mid-to-late 20s, which was the market I — as a commercial model — was right for. In that way, being in my early 30s was an asset, rather than a liability, for me.

I ran away to Australia to celebrate my 30th birthday. My partner, Nick (Hopper), came with me.

At the time, there was a recession in London and lots of models couldn’t find work. The response from my agency was: ‘You have great clients. You’re not the only brunette in town. Why would you leave when you’re in such demand’?

I was almost asleep in bed one night when I said “I’ll be 31 next month.’ I then sat bolt upright, realising that while I’d prepared myself for being 30, I wasn’t even remotely prepared for this birthday. That felt bizarre.

By the time I reached my early 30s, I had the confidence and credibility to launch a business I feel passionate about, with Nick and my sister, Melissa. That felt, and continues to feel, good.”

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