The aging process sometimes seems like nature's cruelest joke, but a new study shows there might actually be an upside to growing older. On average, survey respondents reported being less worried after 50, with people in their 70s and 80s the least likely to report negative emotions.
The findings shocked Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor of psychology at the University of California at Riverside who studies happiness. "That's really surprising that people in their 80s are happier than in their 70s and 60s. That's almost shocking, and not consistent with everything I've seen."
Less ground-breaking results of the study, perhaps, regard the emotions of ages on the younger end of the spectrum, in which respondents reported being less stressed and angry in the years after their 20s. Those who have lived through their 20s would likely say that it wasn't the buffet of free-wheeling fun we see on TV. Reality check: twenty-somethings are at the beginning of their careers with lower-paying jobs that barely pay the bar tab racked up while looking for love in all the wrong places. There's a reason why "quarter-life crisis" has entered the modern lexicon.
What do these findings show in a larger sense? Lyubomirsky notes that the study "will make us happier and dread older age less if we know that some people who are older are happier. It debunks some stereotypes about older people."
Anecdotally, these are findings that relate directly to a conversation I had with a dear friend recently. Groaning about aches and pains (we're not that old, but we're dramatic), she asked if I've seen any new gray hairs lately. "There's nothing good about getting old," I lamented. My friend, who is a good deal wiser than I am looked at me serenely. "Well, not physically," she said.
Perhaps the next batch of scientific findings will show that there are, in fact, physical powers bestowed upon us as we get older. Until then, though, some might find the results of this study deeply reassuring, in part because they say something about contentment, rather than "happiness."
As we age, our worry and stress declines. We loosen our death grip on the rabid striving to obtain all we desire in work, love, health, family, and material success. The study showed that reports of worrying drop off sharply after our 50s.
Some suggest that as we age, we stop casting into the future and begin appreciating what we have in life. Could aging be a practice in mindfulness? Vice chair of the department of psychiatry at New York's Stony Brook University, Arthur A. Stone says, "Perhaps you're making decisions about your life to maximize your pleasure in the now."
In the quest for contentment in our lives, this sounds like good news at any age.
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