AS YOU grow older, it is tempting to think that you have left your happiest days behind.

The carefree days of your youth, when anything seemed possible, are worlds away, never to be relived.

Back then you had none of the restrictive trappings of later life - a mortgage, a job, others to provide for. And, most probably, you were fit and well. You had the rest of your life ahead.

I look back on my late teens and early twenties as the happiest years of my life so far, when I was a student, surrounded by friends and every day was fun and full of laughs.

But my happiest days could be yet to come - and a long way off. Experts say that our feelings of joy and contentment don’t peak until the age of 82.

Leading neuroscientist Daniel Levitin says that older generations are much more cheerful than younger ones. The expert states that World Health Organisation data from 60 countries to show that happiness grows with age.

He could be right. We tend to look at the past through rose coloured glasses. Come to think of it, the glory days of my late teens/early twenties were also full of insecurities.

Relationship woes were never far from the surface: will he/won’t he call me? Does he/doesn’t he like me? Will it/won’t it last? At the time, it generated all sorts of worries.

Then there were all those exams, year after year.

And body image: Why does my hair look like a bird’s nest? Why aren’t my legs longer? Does my bum look big in this? Such things are far more burdensome at an age when you’re trying to impress the opposite sex.

I probably felt happier back then because those things were all I had to worry about. But I wasn’t in any way in control of my life.

Later, as we begin to take some sort of path, come the real worries - how to make a living. Jobs, mortgages, car loans, bills, bills, bills… And then, for many, children and the sometimes overwhelming, scary responsibility of supporting and raising a family, of keeping a roof over their head.

As Dr Levitin states in his book The Changing Mind, published this month, happiness declines in our 30s, but it starts to pick up once you reach 54.

I’m 59. I am certainly more settled than I was at 20 - I have a home, I have raised children who are now more-or-less self-sufficient, and, although I am no high flyer, I have built an enjoyable career.

But life still isn’t a bed of roses. I still have a mortgage, alongside an insecure job and an uncertain future. I can’t claim my pension for another eight years. Life is still throwing plenty of stress in my direction.

The thought of having to go through another 23 years of this before I feel complete contentment is depressing to say the least.

‘You realise you’ve gotten through all these things that were stressing you out. If you make it to 82, you know you’ve managed, you’re OK.’, says Dr Levitin.

But will 82 really put me on cloud nine? I think it’s more likely to put me in a care home. Those over 80 in good health should count themselves lucky.

I don’t think true happiness is an age thing. Happiness is intermittent throughout life, appearing in fits and starts. It is, in my experience, about the little things: wine, food and a decent DVD on Saturday nights, walks in the countryside, time with family and friends, toasted teacake with a good cup of tea.

All these things bring pleasure.

But if we hit the ecstatic button at 82, then great. As I labour towards my eighties, I’ll hang onto that thought.