"School will be the happiest time of your life."
What a load of bullshit.
The amount of times I heard that when I was growing up, the amount of times stressed out adults pressed that upon us children with urgency and with wild eyes. "You'll never be as happy as when you're at school. Enjoy it! No responsibilities! No bills! You don't know how lucky you are!"
Teachers who would grow frustrated at pupils fighting and not studying would insist, "You've got it so good! You'll look back on this time and realize that it was the best time of your life".
Well, I for one would like to thank my lucky stars that my life didn't in fact peak at age 14. But thanks for your input, crazy adults.
School is endless cliques, in-fighting, bitching because you don't have the right shoes, or the right kind of puffa jacket. School is a place where you are only as important as the social group you're in. Teenagers rip each other apart in that special way only they can. Being a teenager is the hardest, most challenging and unrewarding job there is. And I've worked in recruitment.
I think there is something very, very wrong and depressing about telling children that school is the best it's going to get. I for one happen to think that school wasn't all that great, and I was glad to leave. College was worse, being the heavy one that didn't really fit in (the nickname "Randy Hippo" was bandied about for a bit) and breaking free into the working world, making my own money and being a grown up was so much better. I quickly realized that actually, being a grown up was okay. Missing a payment for a phone bill wasn't actually as bad as having the wrong color hair in the playground.
I'm reading "Guts" by Kristen Johnston at the moment -- read it! It's great! -- and there's a bit in it where she returns to her hometown after making it big in "Third Rock From The Sun" and bumps into one of the girls who tormented her as a teen. This girl, the one who called Kristen names and bullied her endlessly, is in awe of her and asks for an autograph. Kristen fantasizes about signing it:
It must really suck to know you peaked at twelve.
Now, I'm not saying I was ever bullied. I wasn't. I ran with the "popular" crowd, I had many friends and my school experience wasn't on the same page as Kristen's at all. What I do know is that school wasn't all that great, and adults telling us that it was the best time we'd ever experience terrified me quite a lot.
Now I'm in my mid twenties (I can say that until I hit 28, right?), people often tell me that this is the best time of my life. And if it were, I wouldn't mind at all. I am content and at peace, 50 times happier than I was at 14, 16, 19, 23. I feel settled, able to deal and cope with things, I feel loved and excited about the future. Just when I thought that this might actually be the highlight of my time on this little planet, I read this!
A survey of 340,000 people found that despite happiness hitting a low point at around 45 -- divorces, children draining you of your money and emptying your fridge, stressful jobs -- happiness then increases, and by 85, people were more satisfied with themselves than when they were at 65 years earlier. Happiness actually heightens as we get older, year by year. The octogenarians surveyed were found to be the most content and happiest with their lot. Yay for old age!
Dr Saverio Stranges, who led the study, said happiness increases with age because we develop "better coping abilities" as we go through life.
"It's obvious that people's physical quality of life deteriorates as they age, but what is interesting is that their mental well-being doesn't also deteriorate -- in fact it increases," he added.
Those of us who will be lucky enough to live such a long life are surely cheered by this news. I know I certainly am. And in the meantime, maybe we can start telling children that in fact, the best is yet to come.
Natalie's on Twitter: @Natalie_KateM.