Older people are happier than younger people. Don’t believe it? Well, more and more studies are coming out, proving that older people are in fact happier than people in their middle-ages and definitely happier than the younger lot.
Although aging does deteriorate the physical and mental health of many seniors, seniors with good mental health are much happier than younger individuals.
We have this negative image of aging ingrained in our minds. Each birthday after the age of 21 seems to add the burden of responsibilities. After each birthday we look back at what we accomplished and most of us are left unsatisfied. We contemplate the future, hoping that one day we will overcome all the hurdles life’s thrown at us, everything will fall into place and we will gain true happiness.
We’re constantly dragging our feet to get to a place in our life where we will be content and in all this anticipation, we forget to live.
We’ve all heard that “Happiness is a journey, not a destination” and despite hearing it over and over again, few of us actually believe it.
This is exactly what the elderly appear to have cracked. When you know your days are limited, you don’t have the time to look for the ‘destination’, you savor the moments you have…finally, you learn to enjoy the journey.
A study published in the Journal of Consumer Research found that as a person ages, the experiences that bring them happiness change. When you’re younger, you rely on extraordinary experiences for happiness. However, as you get older you learn to appreciate the ordinary experiences. As a younger person, it is difficult to place value on mundane activities but when you come to realize that there is an end to it all, you stop taking it for granted.
Younger individuals depend on extraordinary experiences to establish personal identities while older people are generally more settled, to them ordinary experiences are the basis to their sense of self. When you’re young you equate happiness with excitement, when you’re older you find happiness in stability and peace.
Professor Carstensen, a professor of Public policy and psychology at Stanford University, discussed a study in her Ted talk conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the study, both younger individuals and elders were asked how much stress they experienced over the course of a week, fewer older people answered positively in comparison to middle-aged and younger people. She cited another study where people belonging to different generations were asked how much stress, worry, and anger they had experienced the previous day. The study revealed that stress, worry, and anger decreased with age.
Through years of studying the mentality of aging people, Carstensen has found that it is too simplistic to conclude that older people are generally happier than their younger counterparts but older people are certainly more comfortable with sadness. The elderly are more likely to experience mixed emotions. They face sadness by accessing positive memories and information that they have accumulated over the years.
According to Carstensen and several other studies in the same field, perception of time is a key difference between elders and younger people. Younger people think of time as infinite, elders are a lot wiser. As you go through life you come to embrace its realities regardless of how difficult it is. Elderly people are conscious of their limited time, which causes them to invest energy in what is meaningful to them. Acknowledging that time is limited, changes our perspective of life in positive ways.
Younger people are focused on absorbing all sorts of information regardless of whether it benefits them or not. There’s an emphasis on exploring and taking risks.
As you grow older, time horizons change and you prioritize what is most important. You’re not bothered by trivial matters, you don’t hold grudges as you’re more inclined to resolve conflict. You’re grateful for what you have and are no longer searching for happiness elsewhere. You invest on what you value and in turn lead a life of better quality than those that are on a constant lookout for bouts of happiness.
We have yet another lesson to learn from the elderly, the lesson to embrace life as it is instead of yearning for something we don’t have.
All of that being said, the physical health of the elderly is of great significance here. When someone is physically unwell, it’s bound to curb their mental health as well. The elderly people that were examined in the studies were of good health. These elderly people ARE living ‘each day like it’s their last’ and it clearly works in their favor.
Younger people should learn to cherish life and all its intricacies if they want to attain the state of true happiness. It’ll be better for all of us to realize the value of these moments when we’re in good health, a time could come where we are unable to process such precious moments.