Happy people live longer. While happy countries have higher life expectancy. Scientists have even documented that happy orangutans are living longer. It would seem that happiness is an important commodity. With older adults there is a conspiracy to be happy. Not only do happy people live longer but older adults are more likely to become happier with age.
What makes us so happy? In The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, Barry Schwartz documents that the secret for happiness is not having a great choice or achieving your goals and dreams. No. Happiness comes from accepting what you have, being happy with the choices that you made. Having more choices makes us less happy. And it does not matter what those choices are. Which is why Daniel Gilbert's cheerfully engaging Stumbling On Happiness is so good. The argument that it is not choices that make us happy, but our acceptance of the choices we make has generated a lot of interest. In psychology Paul Baltes's model of selection, optimization, and compensation (SOC) argues that it is essential for successful development that older adults maximize their remaining capacities and minimize their losses. We do not choose to experience losses. But we choose to accept them.
In 2010 Alex Bishop and his colleagues working with the Georgia Centenarian Study found that happiness among these exceptionally older people was determined by “congruence” which was defined by three statements, one of which was: "I would not change my past life even if I could."
"Even if I could." This is an important admission. If you are getting frailer, becoming more diminished, experiencing the loss of lovers, friends and colleagues, and facing increasing challenges you have limited options, and none of them include reversing this trend. The best utilization of your energies is to accept the changes and assume that you are destined to be here. Wherever “here” is. What psychologists call a positive character-disposition and strong adaptability to the adversities of their life. You are meant to be where you are.
And this attitude starts earlier in life, not learned when you become an older adult. Accepting “bad” choices, painful loss, forgiving people, being content with what you have in terms of money and health is how you tell your body that you are happy where you are and that you not ready to go just yet. You belong here still. Even if you could change circumstances, you would choose the same path because that is what made you.
Happiness tells your body that you are still present. That you are needed.
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