Wiser and Happier?

Getting older isn't as bad as it seems—on the contrary, it has its perks. Plus: How your sense of happiness changes as you age, midlife crisis myths, and ancient wisdom about aging.

Why Are Older Adults Happier Than Younger Adults?

Does growing older make you happier?

Common sense suggests that happiness and well being should decline with age. After all, with creaking joints, memory lapses, and the sense of edging ever closer to the grave, the stereotype is that older folks mourn their lost youth and vitality, their active social lives, and the anticipation of a long (and happy) life. But research shows that this is not the case. Older adults report higher levels of positive affect and lower levels of negative emotions than do young adults. Moreover, older adults have a higher feeling of well being than do younger adults. [This only holds true up to a point, with the very elderly experiencing declines in emotional and physical well-being]. How can this be?

While there is no definitive answer, some of the reasons suggest that older adults do not experience emotions, particularly negative emotions, as intensely as the young. Another explanation is that negative events don't have the same devastating impact that they have on younger folks. Old folks know how to "roll with the punches."

In any case, emotional regulation seems to be a key factor. A recent paper by Heather Urry and James Gross suggest that older adults can anticipate situations that will lead to negative emotions and avoid them (they "choose their battles"). Older folks also tend to look on the bright side, paying more attention to positive as opposed to negative information. Of course, there are many factors that affect happiness and well-being, including having a supportive social network (older adults tend to have smaller, but stronger social ties), having adequate financial resources, and being in reasonably good health.

The stereotype that happiness and well being declines with age, is simply not true for active, healthy older adults.

* H.L. Urry & J.J. Gross (2010). Emotion regulation in older age. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 19(6), 352-357.