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“We ran a conference about it, but nobody came.” Since then, interest in the U-bend has been growing.Its effect on happiness is significant—about half as much, from the nadir of middle age to the elderly peak, as that of unemployment. David Blanchflower, professor of economics at Dartmouth College, and Mr Oswald looked at the figures for 72 countries.Mr Townshend may have thought of himself as a youthful radical, but this view is ancient and conventional.The “seven ages of man”—the dominant image of the life-course in the 16th and 17th centuries—was almost invariably conceived as a rise in stature and contentedness to middle age, followed by a sharp decline towards the grave. “A few of us noticed the U-bend in the early 1990s,” says Andrew Oswald, professor of economics at Warwick Business School.

Education, in other words, seems to make people happy because it makes them richer.

Studies following people over many years have shown that neuroticism is a stable personality trait and a good predictor of levels of happiness.

Neurotic people are not just prone to negative feelings: they also tend to have low emotional intelligence, which makes them bad at forming or managing relationships, and that in turn makes them unhappy.

Which suggests either that women are more likely to experience more extreme emotions, or that a few women are more miserable than men, while most are more cheerful.

Two personality traits shine through the complexity of economists' regression analyses: neuroticism and extroversion.

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