Sunday, January 2, 2011

We get happier with age and it isn't all about money

Good news for baby boomers: We get happier as we get older.
Across many cultures and economies, new studies show that people experience a U-shape curve of happiness with the lowest point coming in their 40s, followed by a steady climb to contentment as we age.
Those of us beyond middle age can look to a more contented life as we jettison teenage kids, career expectations and even money worries, reports The Economist magazine in its December 2010 issue.
"People, studies show, behave differently at different ages," said the Economist. "Older people have fewer rows and come up with better solutions to conflict. They are better at controlling their emotions, better at accepting misfortune and less prone to anger.
"In one study, for instance, subjects were asked to listen to recordings of people supposedly saying disparaging things about them. Older and younger people were similarly saddened, but older people less angry and less inclined to pass judgment, taking the view, as one put it, that “you can’t please all the people all the time.”
It turns out that when asked to rate their happiness on a 1-to-10 scale, younger people in the 20s and older people over 60 came in at about the same rating of between 6.8 and 7. Those in the 40 to 50 age group rated themselves the lowest at about 6.3.
These results occurred no matter where people lived...Zimbabwea, Europe or the U.S., researchers said.
"Stiffening joints, weakening muscles, fading eyesight and clouding of memory, coupled with the modern world's careless contempt for the old, seem a fearful prospect...better than death, perhaps, but not much. Yet mankind is wrong to dread aging. Life is not a long slow decline from the sunlit uplands toward the valley of death," writes The Economist. "It is rather, a U-bend."
Researchers offer several possible explanations.
- Maybe just being alive as some of us die, makes us as survivors more determined to enjoy life.
- Maybe we come to accept our strengths and weaknesses. Become more content with what we've accomplished and who we are.
- Maybe it's just accepting the fact that we are older.
- Do we become committed to making the most of the rest of our lives as we see the horizon getting closer?
It's not about money
The study results show that having a lot of money may have an influence on happiness, but a not particularly big one. Governments are beginning to use the happiness quotient among their citizens as a broader measure of social well being than just gross domestic product.
Based on my observations of people over 60, myself included, our lives are rich, full and rewarding. Despite continued worries about children, grandchildren, the global economy, investments and health, I would rank my own happiness as above average. I feel lucky in that I can combine work and leisure in my new semi-retired life. I've not yet found the right balance, but I'm getting there.
If 2010 was a year of transition for me and many others, 2011 promises some stability on the home front, new travel opportunities while keeping my hand is as a reporter, writer and commentator.
Happier, more productive
Happier people are more productive and more healthy, researchers report. "So although old people tend to be less healthy than younger ones, their cheerfulness may help counteract their crumbliness," said The Economist.
All this is emerging in a new branch of economics that seeks a "more satisfactory measure than money of human well-being."
As we move into another year, when baby boomers (those born in 1946 as I was) begin turning 65, it's good to note that age does not mean loss. Age does not mean gloom. Age does not bring depression. At least in my view, life is good, life is enriching and full. Studies prove this to be true for most of us. I also know that I can recover from set-backs more quickly and spend less time wringing my hands over mistakes.
"...the growing happiness that follows middle-aged misery must be the result not of external circumstances (such as money, career success or children) but of internal changes," the Economist said.
Simply put maybe we more easily forget the pain while remembering the good things we can experience in the here and now.
Happy New Year!!

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