Is Aging the Secret to Happiness?

How Aging Can Bring Happiness

senior couple dancing
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Happiness and age are related, but not in the way you might think. For the most part our culture is youth-driven, so we assume that the young and beautiful also happen to the be the happiest. A young person who has time on their side may appear happy, but the notion just is not true. Happiness actually increases with age.

It might be unfathomable for some young people to believe their grandparents are happier than they are, but research shows that Americans actually get happier as they age despite the health conditions and other problems that arise.

Before we celebrate, though, let's take a look at the evidence on aging and happiness.

Trends in Happiness

Let's face it: research related to happiness is filled with judgments and subjectivity because happiness is subjective. How can you be sure a research participant who says, "I'm pretty happy," truly is happy? Maybe they're content with less? Maybe their happiness is based on material possessions? Maybe each generation has different expectations of happiness? Researchers needed to find a way around these kinds of problems.

Luckily sociologists have consistently conducted more that 50,000 interviews since 1972 for the General Social Survey, a sociological survey conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. The survey, which is open to the public, provides a wealth of insight into our society and measures happiness over time. By comparing differently-aged individuals over time within the same year, researchers were able to get around some of these limitations, and what they found is that happiness increases with age.

Aging America: A Happy Place

"How happy are you?" That is the big question researchers ask year after year. Not only did researchers find that older people tend to be happier, but that happiness is not something older participants had all their lives. In other words, as people get older, say starting at age 50, happiness comes to them.

As media continue to warn us about the dangers of an aging America, keep this in mind: An aging America may be the happiest America we have ever seen. Perhaps this is because of the wisdom that comes with age or because older people adjust their expectations in life, but whatever the reason there is solid evidence that older Americans are truly happier than younger ones.

How to Maximize Your Happiness

Improve your own happiness by ignoring the societal norm that youth = happiness. Allow yourself to feel happy as you age. Don't get caught up in worrying about the small stuff. Take good care of your health and, most importantly, let yourself go. Don't think that you have to act your age. Here are some more tips to keep you active, happy and having fun as you age:

Source: Yang, Yang. Social Inequalities in Happiness in the United States, 1972 to 2004: An Age-Period-Cohort Analysis. American Sociological Review, Volume 73, Number 2, April 2008 , pp. 204-226(23).

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