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Study Finds That Older People Are Happier


Study Finds That Older People Are Happier

Getting older is often seen as a very negative experience for most people. Our faces change and our skin loses its elasticity. Our hair becomes coarse and grey, or it may fall out. We can develop arthritis and have other health problems. Surely these factors would result in older people feeling less happy? Well according to new research published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, this is not the case. In fact, it appears that older people are actually happier than young adults in their 20’s and 30’s. Dr. Dilip Jeste, director of the Stein Institute for Research on Ageing at the University of California, San Diego led the study. The study included 1500 people aged between 21 and 99 years from San Diego County, California. They were phoned, and during the call they were asked questions to assess their cognitive skills. They were also emailed a written survey regarding their physical health and psychological health. They were asked to rate their level of happiness, depression, stress, anxiety and life satisfaction. “Contrary to the stereotype of old and grumpy, the study found older people to be happy and contented. Their improved sense of psychological well-being was linear and substantial. Participants reported that they felt better about themselves and their lives year upon year, decade after decade”said Dr. Jeste.

This new research showed that there was an overall improvement in people’s mental health as they aged. Dr. Jeste isn’t sure why this is, but presumes that it is because older adults may cope better with stressful experiences than younger people. Older people tend to be more resilient and better at regulating their emotions and solving problems. The research showed that people in their 20’s and 30’s were under a high level of stress, and their psychological health was much worse than people in the older age brackets. It can be a stressful time for young people because they are making big decisions about their careers, buying a house or apartment, meeting a romantic partner, having babies and perhaps having financial problems.

Previous studies indicated that people in their 20’s and 30’s were happier than middle aged individuals, and this further declined as they moved into their 60’s and 70’s. However it isn’t all positive news, while older people experience better psychological health, their physical and cognitive well-being declines. It is also important to note that this study only included adults living in San Diego, so this may not be the case in the rest of America or worldwide. Also people living in nursing homes were excluded from the study. Researchers think that as we grow older our focuses change. Ageing researcher Laura Carstensen from the Stanford Centre on Longevity said “When people face endings they tend to shift from goals about exploration and expanding horizons to ones about savouring relationships and focusing on meaningful activities. When you focus on emotionally meaningful goals, life gets better, you feel better, and the negative emotions become less frequent and more fleeting when they occur.”

A brain imaging study which was done in 2004, showed that elderly people had reduced activity in the amygdala, which is the part of the brain associated in emotional reactions. This suggests that things don’t seem as unpleasant and we don’t have the same emotional reaction to unpleasant events when we get older. Arthur Stone a psychologist from the USC Dornsife Centre for Self-Report Science said “There’s lots of speculation about why older people are happier and having better moods even when their cognitive and physical health is in decline, but we still don’t have anything that fully explains what is going on,” “It’s a big puzzle, and an important puzzle.”

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