When are we at our prime?

Photo by Melanie Hughes on Unsplash

Is it when we look our best, or when our minds are the sharpest they’ll be during our lifespan? Or is it when our feelings of happiness are at their highest?

If we’re lucky, most of us will be around for close to 100 years. Over the course of that time, it turns out that we’ll have multiple “primes.” Our skin will never look better than it did on the day we were born, but it will still be protecting us and holding us together, decades later (and no matter how you feel about wrinkles, that’s a win).

Physically, we reach our prime at about age 25 ­– that’s when our muscle mass reaches its peak. Our bones are strongest at age 30, and our brain processing power is strongest at age 18 (go figure!)[i] We start getting shorter after age 30,  and some of us will lose as much as three inches by the time we’re done, in our ‘80s or ‘90s.   

Psychologically, studies show that we’re happy in our 20s and 30s, we become less happy in our 40s and into our 50s, and then we start to be happy again in our 60s, with a peak of contentment at age 69.[ii]

Photo by Jake Fagan at UnSplash

So why is it that we tend to view the progression of our lives as an arc, where once we reach the midpoint it’s just a downward slope to the bottom?

Well, our society’s focus on youth is a big part of it, which is reinforced in advertising.  “The world of oldsvertising is a hellscape full of reverse mortgages, erectile dysfunction pills, and bathtubs that won’t kill you,” says Jeff Beer, staff editor at Fast Company, in an article titled “Why marketing to seniors is so terrible.”[iii]

The ageism we start to experience at work feeds into it too. For women, ageism in the workplace starts at age 40. For men it’s typically age 45. And in some industries it starts even earlier. Tech workers are considered old at 29, and absolutely ancient at age 38[iv].  

But many companies are now advertising more authentically to people over 50. Think L’Oreal, featuring Helen Mirren and Jane Fonda in advertising, and Covergirl, which recently did a campaign with Maye Musk (although the cred may be just as much due to her being Elon’s mother.)   

Photo by Mitch Hodge at UnSplash

When it comes to ageism in the workplace, companies are at least now becoming more aware of the problem, thanks to some high-profile organizations that have been successfully sued for age discrimination (WeWork, Google, IBM, and others.) Will that help? At this point, it’s not clear, but at least these court cases have given ageism some heightened prominence.

But we can take heart. It turns out that our sense of well-being is highest at age 82. Instead of a regular arc, maybe we can look at our progression through life like an upside-down-arc. All we need to do is get through that dip in the middle, and we’re back to contentment and serenity.   


[i] Chris Weller and Skye Gould, “Here are the ages you peak at everything throughout life,” Business Insider, Oct. 5, 2017, retrieved from: https://www.businessinsider.com/best-age-for-everything-2017-3//?r=AU&IR=T/#learning-a-second-language-is-easiest-when-youre-about-7-or-8-1

[ii] Romeo Vitelli, Ph.D., “At What Age Will You Really Be Happiest?” Psychology Today, Sept. 21/15, retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/media-spotlight/201509/what-age-will-you-really-be-happiest

[iii] Jeff Beer, “Why marketing to seniors is so terrible.” Fast Company, May 6, 2019, retrieved from: https://www.fastcompany.com/90341477/why-marketing-to-seniors-is-so-terrible

[iv] Jayne Smith, “Age discrimination now begins for tech workers at 29,” Insight, December 6, 2019, retrieved from: https://workplaceinsight.net/age-discrimination-now-begins-for-tech-workers-at-29/

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