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Happiness vs. society’s milestones: What makes Brits feel fulfilled?

Written by
Tim Knighton
Life, health and income protection insurance expert
10 JUNE 2022
6 min read
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The road to happiness will undoubtedly look different for everyone. With many of us working towards the next big life milestone we’d like to reach by a certain age, the pressure to keep up can be overwhelming. 

We surveyed 1,500 Brits aged 30 and over to see what their perceptions are when it comes to achieving some of life’s biggest milestones, from passing their driving test to buying a forever home. We also asked when individuals expect to achieve true happiness in their lifetime, and which milestones they think are key to achieving this.

What milestones are the most important when it comes to feeling fulfilled? 

Over three quarters of Brits (76%) agree that feeling financially secure is the biggest milestone we need to reach in order to feel fulfilled.  
Financial security is followed by finding the one (75%) in second place, whilst getting a good job, buying a first home and moving into a forever home (73%) are all tied at third place. 
Just over four in ten (43%) said buying a dream car would make them feel fulfilled.

Is the road to happiness the same for everyone? 

As humans, we each find joy and contentment in different things. So, when it comes to some of life’s biggest milestones, do they truly have the potential to make us all equally happy? 

We found that, overall, seven in ten (71%) people agree that having children would make them feel fulfilled, however just 28% of people without children agreed with this statement.  

When it comes to finding the one, half (50%) of single people say this will make them feel fulfilled compared to almost nine in ten (86%) of those in a relationship.

Expectations vs. reality - When do we expect to achieve some of life’s biggest milestones growing up

From our friends to our colleagues, we often feel pressure from different places when it comes to completing some of life’s biggest milestones by a certain age. But from where do we feel the most pressure to achieve some of these key life events?  

When it comes to our family, we’re most likely to feel pressure from them to get a good job (18%) over all other milestones, whilst we’re the most likely to put pressure on ourselves to feel financially secure (42%). 

During childhood and adolescence, we usually develop expectations of when we’d like to achieve a certain goal, but things don’t always turn out the way we planned. We asked people about the age they expected to achieve some of life’s biggest milestones versus the age they actually achieved them: 

Getting married

Our research reveals that 26 is the age people expect to be married by when growing up. Furthermore, 52% of women thought they’d be married by the age of 25  

Having a child 

Despite the average age of first-time mothers in the UK being 30, our research has shown that female respondents admit to having expected to have a child by the age of 25 growing up, and men by the age of 27. 

Buying a first home

The struggle to get on the property ladder is tough, so it might come as a surprise that over two fifths (42%) expected to own their first home by the age of 25 whilst growing up. Realistically however, the average first time home buyer in the UK (outside of London) is 32 years old. 

Retiring from work

Growing up, respondents expected to retire from work at the age of 57 on average. However, our retired respondents revealed that they actually retired at 51 on average, meaning people are retiring from work 7 years earlier than expected. 

At what age do we expect to reach true happiness? 

Our research reveals that, whilst 34 is the average age people have felt at their happiest so far, 36 is the optimal age on average people think they will become truly happy.  

Whether this is the result of financial security, achieving some of life’s biggest milestones such as having a child or getting married, or simply a time when we find contentment within ourselves, our 30s prove to be a popular decade amongst our respondents to reach true contentment. 

Where do the happiest Brits live 

Many of us might have things we wish we’d done differently, however learning from our mistakes and failures is part of being human. Our research reveals that two thirds of us are happy with the life choices we have made so far (68%), but where do the most content Brits live?

Glaswegians are revealed to be the most content with 74% agreeing they are happy with the life choices they have made so far.  

Meanwhile, just 58% of residents in Cardiff said they are happy with their life choices so far. 

Delving deeper into our research, we explored what areas of our lives we may have done differently, and found that 38% of Cardiff residents wish they had waited longer before getting married (compared to the 23% average), 24% wish they had waited longer before finding the one (compared to the 12% average), and 18% wish they had waited longer before having a child (compared to the 13% average). 

What do we regret the most? 

We asked our respondents if there is anything outside of life’s biggest milestones that they wish they had taken more time to do, revealing some of our biggest regrets.  

The most common activity people wish they had spent more time on is exercising (29%), spending more time with their family (25%) and learning a new language (25%). Meanwhile, just 24% said there is nothing they wish they had taken more time to do in their lives so far.  

These results suggest that, whilst it’s easy to overlook smaller goals when striving to achieve some of life’s biggest milestones, we shouldn’t forget the little things in life that can also make us happy. Although we may feel pressure from society to achieve certain milestones, it’s important to remember to enjoy life at our own pace and work towards our own personal goals that give us joy. 

Alex Hasty, director at adds “Happiness is different for everyone, and many of us will go down various paths throughout our lives as we look to achieve our own personal goals. Whatever you decide to do, it’s important to consider what kind of life insurance is right for your choices, whether you’re a parent, homeowner, newlywed or retiree.”