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YOUR MOST 'YOUTHFUL' DAYS COULD BE AHEAD

A young friend of mine recently was in town. She has been dealing with headaches, and so I asked her how she's feeling.

She said she's fine most days, but she did see the doctor, who ruled out more concerning possibilities before concluding stress may be the culprit.

"But he thinks 19 is young for tension headaches,'' she told me.

Now, I'm sure her doctor is a learned scholar of the healing arts, but really, what a silly thing to say. Yes, my friend is lovely, smart and talented. She has good friends, a family who adores her, an excellent boyfriend, and even a job, which is more than many college students can say.

But she's also 19. I distinctly recall that at that age, it can be hard to have perspective. You just haven't been alive long enough to know what is and isn't worth getting worked up about.

So especially if you have some perfectionistic tendencies, sometimes your head hurts. I know mine does from time to time. But as the years go on, I am getting better at the glass-half-full thing. Especially when I've had a good night's sleep.

All of which I told my young friend. I hope it helped a little.

This exchange got me thinking about a recent study that had a lot of people nodding in recognition, and others just scratching their heads.

A couple of years ago, Gallup polled more than 340,000 Americans, ages 18 to 85, to discover how they feel about themselves and their lives.

Bottom line: Most people reported that they start out pretty well, but tend to get more stressed, worried and angry with age. Then, after about 50, something - and we don't know what - happens. People start getting happier and happier. By age 85, the study found, respondents were more satisfied with themselves than they were at 18.

Neither gender, whether they had a partner or children, nor whether they had jobs seemed to make much difference to this pattern. Health status wasn't deeply explored, so the study authors couldn't draw conclusions about the impact of illness.

Happiness is one of the more popular subjects to research these days, so I bet we'll have more answers soon.

Meanwhile, it's certainly encouraging to think that for all the anti-aging potions and nostrums that are being promoted these days, there is good reason not to fear the march of time.

And not to assume that just because somebody is younger than you, they've got nothing to stress about.

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