people start out at age 18 feeling pretty good about themselves, and then, apparently, life begins to throw curve balls. They feel worse and worse until they hit 50. At that point, there is a sharp reversal, and people keep getting happier as they age. By the time they are 85, they are even more satisfied with themselves than they were at 18.Although it makes me happy to think I'll get happier as I get older, I think this study isn't really telling us much of anything about happiness. For starters, the survey was only conducted once, in 2008. So all it's really telling us is that people who are older self-report being happier than people who are middle-aged. But clearly the generation that came of age during the Great Depression and World War II might have a different sense of well-being than me and my fellow Gen Xers who came of age during Disco and Stagflation. In other words, it's possible that a generation that suffered more collective trauma might be more willing to report themselves as happy than a generation who suffered collective bad fashion choices. There's also the little problem of self- reported. Happiness surveys might be getting more to social roles than actual emotions. In other words, if you're a cheerleader, perky all the time type and someone asks you if you're happy, you will say "you betcha" even if you're thinking about drinking some poison that night. And if you're a black-clad musician, you might just snort and say "fuck no" when an interviewer asks you whether you're happy. Happiness, like many emotions, is a social role we must wear on our sleeves- and even on our faces. Sarah Palin must be happy; Glenn Beck must be unhappy. Who knows what they really feel- and who cares- not just because both those people make me unhappy, but because happiness is a fleeting emotion, like boredom or nervousness. There are deeper states, like joy or depression, but happiness, despite its place in the founding documents of this country, is a more superficial state. So now, our social roles will shift with the social scientific data. Older Americas will be expected to smile; middle-aged Americans frown. And most of us will continue to be unhappy.