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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Who Is the Happiest?

In the movie Cocoon, a group of feeble Florida retirees become mysteriously rejuvenated when their retirement home swimming pool turns into a fountain of youth. Does feeling youthful make you happy? If so, are younger people happier than elderly folks? The American Psychological Association reports that persons in their 80s and 90s may be happier than the rest of us. How can that be? Elderly people are not as physically active as they used to be when they were younger. Many of them can no longer drive. Their health deteriorates. Many of their spouses and their friends have died. It's hard for them to get out and make new friends. They resist change. Many have had to leave their homes for assisted living facilities. They engage in fewer social activities and tend to be alone more often. So what's making these folks so gosh darn euphoric?

Turns out that researchers have discovered that with the exception of dementia related diseases, mental health tends to improve as people get older. SAY WHAT?  Yes, apparently the older you get, the more content you become. Several studies have found that older adults report fewer negative emotional experiences than younger adults. Researchers also learned that teenagers most frequently reported negative emotions while octogenarians seemed to feel the least negative.

Older adults tend to see the good things in life more easily and are less likely to get as upset when little things go wrong, according to researchers. Psychologists refer to this as the "wisdom of aging"; the ability to experience everyday life as uplifting. Dr. Susan Charles says that younger people focus more on negative criticism and demand more information as to the origin of the criticism, resulting in greater stress. Older folks tend to let criticism roll off their backs and do not get as upset about it---which helps them feel less anxious, sad or angry than younger people.

The key to being happy as you age, seems to be make the most of the time you have. Elderly people in particular, avoid engaging in situations that will make them unhappy. They make choices to avoid situations and individuals which cause them stress and aggravation. Even if you're not an octogenarian, it makes sense not to hang with folks who annoy you.

So as we age, we won't all be turning into  "grumpy old men and women" afterall. Whew. What a relief. I feel mellower already. An Australian study reports that young people ages 18-30 actually were no happier than seniors aged 66 and over. Despite older people being less socially active than their younger counterparts and spending more time alone each day, the report says that seniors are just as socially satisfied as the younger generation.

The reports do caution that while elderly people appear to have a good stock of emotional well being, it doesn't mean that they are enthusiastic all the time. God forbid we have a worldwide slew of octogenarians hopped up on happiness while the rest of us are miserable. Is it possible that we'll all be actually looking forward to growing older, if it makes us happier?

All this makes you wonder: Was that movie Cocoon really a fantasy....or a possibility?   Old age---bring it on! Sphere: Related Content


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