What The Wild Things Are

Understandings of Self, Awareness, and Mental Health in an Ever-Changing World

Who woulda thought? With age comes… happiness!

It turns out growing old may not be so bad after all.

It turns out age does bring happiness.
AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen

Earlier this week the New York Times reported on a large Gallup poll that found that by almost every measure, people get happier and experience a greater sense of well-being as they grow older.

Amidst the thousands of anti-aging beauty products and supplements, the plastic surgery and bacteria injections, the youth-oriented television shows and movies, and phrases such as "over the hill" and "senior moment" of our youth-obsessed culture, it turns out that we actually feel better when we get old.

The results of the research, published originally online in mid May in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reveal that people start out at age 18 feeling pretty good, but then decline steadily in their life experience until they hit 50. They measured such states as enjoyment, happiness, stress, worry, anger, and sadness, all of which hit a low point (or in the case of stress, worry, anger and sadness a high point) at around age 50 and then seem to steadily move towards a more positive state until age 85. There was some increase in sadness towards age 85 but it never reached the low of 50.

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The poll did not draw any conclusions about why this trend occurs. Furthermore, this trend did not seem to be effected by gender or some other measures that one might guess, such as having children at home, whether or not the person has a partner, or employment status.

Rumor is that towards the latter part of his life Carl Jung refused to analyze anyone under the age of 50 because he felt that anyone younger than that didn't have their attention on what was really important, making a deep analysis impossible. Maybe that's what a "midlife crisis" is all about: it isn't just about aging, as most believe, but instead a deep realization that time is running out and we haven't been focused on what really matters. Perhaps if we can make it through that period of our life without blaming those around us and/or chasing too many illusions, we emerge on the other side.... Happier. Whatever the cause may be, apparently aging is not something to dread, but instead is something to actually look forward to.

 

photo: AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen

Samantha Smithstein, Psy.D., is a clinical and forensic psychologist and co-founder of the Pathways Institute for Impulse Control in San Francisco.

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