Happiness is in. As always.
A number of surveys and studies on the subject, have recently released their findings. And, surprise, surprise, they’re reporting that older people are happier than younger people.
A 2008 Gallup phone survey of more than 340,000 Americans, a 2009 survey by the Pew Research Center and studies from the University of Chicago and Vanderbilt University all find that people’s level of happiness increases as they grow older.
It seems that the mid- to late-50s crowd is happier, less stressed and less oppressed by worry than those in their 20s.
The question is "Why?"
In our highly competitive, consumer-saturated, youth-worshiping culture, why would those of us with wrinkles, thinning hair and a 9 p.m. bedtime be happier than the young and beautiful?
There are many theories. Here are three:
1. As we grow older, we tend to forget the more negative experiences and remember the more positive ones.
2. Older adults are more optimistic; we have a more positive outlook on life than younger, stressed-out adults.
3. Older people are happier because they’re more comfortable with themselves and their role in society.
The Pew survey said seven-in-ten respondents 65 or older said they enjoyed more time with their family. Many said they enjoyed having more time for hobbies, more financial security and not having to work. And about sixty percent said they feel more respected and less stressed than they did when they were younger.
Here’s what I think. Just realize that I’m one of these happily optimistic over 50 folks. But I was a happy kid, and a happy young adult, and a happy middle-ager…so read my idea with that in mind.
I think people are meant to be happy and satisfied. I think we’re meant to enjoy life and each other. Babies and toddlers and little kids illustrate this innate joy…just listen to them laugh and giggle.
But between babyhood and old age, there’s a lot to learn in this life.
We’ve got numbers and letters and language to learn along with how to ride a bike and how to swim underwater and how to change the oil in the car or how to write a check.
And then there’s high school and college or the military and trying to find a life-mate, and starting a career and raising a family, and then caring for aging parents and …
Growing up, reaching our goals and doing a little good in the world require so much energy and attention that there’s not much left over for happiness, satisfaction, fun.
Until we hit about 50. By then, we realize that we actually know what’s what and who’s who and what matters most. Or we learn that we can live with ambiguity and mystery.
We’ve achieved some of our dreams and let some of them go without regret. Having lost friends and relatives to death, we realize how precious life is. Because most of us slow down as we age, we’re able to breathe more deeply, to listen to the stories of others, to actually see and appreciate the beauty surrounding us.
I think, as we grow older, we come full circle back to that original joy we had as little kids. It’s more mature, of course, but just as genuine.
And I’m glad that researchers are pointing out how happiness increases as the years go by.