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The happiest years of our lives: 9 and 68

PUBLISHED: 19:22 23 October 2012

The happiest years of our lives, apparently, are very specific: they happen when we're nine and once again when we're 68: that's a 59-year yawning gap of misery to look forward to between good times.

Around 2,000 people of all ages were asked how important fun was to them: 80pc of nine-year-olds said that fun was the most important driving force in their life, as did 64pc of 68-year-olds.

Somewhat depressingly, 72pc of those in their 20s and 40s said that having fun “doesn’t even register in importance” compared with priorities such as paying off debts and furthering careers.

Though it’s fashionable to remember our childhood as a lemon-sherbert flavoured rainbow of joyousness where we danced in sunbeams and played tiddlywinks in the street, the truth is that being a child was a relentless round of fear, loathing and desperately trying to fit in.

Simply clawing back the memories of being young is like surveying every worst-case scenario that topped the bill at the multiplex cinema inside your brain on school nights, a chilling reminder of what being young was actually about: trying to avoid being the one with fleas and terrible shoes that everyone picked on.

For a start, children are the harshest critics on the planet and nothing whatsoever gets past their cruel scrutiny – they’re like Exocet missiles with their sights firmly trained on any perceived deviation from the path of total and utter normality and conformity.

In adult life, you’re unlikely to give a monkey’s chuff what anyone thinks about your trainers, your bag or your hair colour.

When you’re at school, these aren’t mere trifling matters: they’re the very currency of social acceptability.

One shopping trip with a penny-pinching parent of the ‘it’s not a fashion show, you know’ variety can lead to a long, slow term of abject misery spent dodging verbal and possibly physical assaults from herds of burly halfwits wearing designer coats and shoes that don’t look as if they were designed for someone with fallen arches.

In addition to the ruling fringe of insane despots intent on emotionally scarring you for life (school bullies, teachers, career advisers) you also had to contend with the fact that at any one time, half your friends hated you or were talking about you behind your back.

And at the end of the day, where did you go? Back home where the iron fist of parental dogma ruled the day, preventing you from doing 99pc of the things you enjoyed most on the unreasonable basis that they cost too much money/were perilously dangerous/could result in an extended stay in a young offenders’ unit.

Lord it was wearing.

Having spent two-thirds of your youth desperately wishing you were considerably older, you then landed in a disgusting shared house with a group of people you wouldn’t spit on if they were on fire, arguing the toss about who used the last of the milk or left the gigantic floater in the toilet.

Then the terrible realisation hit you: that adult life is dreadful for a whole set of new reasons, all of which you have to pay for by direct debit from your account and not your parents’.

I instinctively mistrust anyone that says the best years of their lives were their school days on the basis that if this is true, they were probably the ones laughing at my coat and my shoes that looked as they’d been designed for someone with fallen arches.

Even though I look like Morticia Addams’ bleaker, less cuddly sister, I am definitely having more fun now than I was when I was nine. I couldn’t drive a car when I was nine, for a start. Or buy alcohol.

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