June 16, 2020

Why we become happier as we age

The Swedish film director and screenwriter Ingmar Bergman is reported to have said: "Growing old is like mountain climbing: The higher you climb, the more your strength diminishes - but the further you see."

This sentence wonderfully describes what science today calls the "age paradox". It says: The older we physically get, the more comfortable our minds feel.

The more days we experience, the more relaxed and wise we become. The older we get, the happier we are.

Many studies have already proven this. A simple look around also confirms these findings: Today, many people are enjoying their lives into old age. Life expectancy and fitness levels are rising and people today have more disposable income than ever before.

For many, 70 is the new 50.

The older, the happier

And it’s exactly in this time span - between the ages of 50 and 70 - where we feel the most amount of happiness in our lives. In a study by the University of California, researchers analysed 1,546 adults between ages 21 and 100 and asked them about their physical and mental well-being. The results were similar to previous studies. In terms of mental health, it was found that older people performed better than their younger counterparts.

In this specific study, respondents over 64 years of age stated that they were happiest.

Asked about the reasons for their well-being, the seniors said that they had already experienced a lot, had nothing to prove and could enjoy their lives. The researchers believed that older people have better control of their emotions and have learned to derive greater satisfaction from smaller things.

Younger people, on the other hand, often overestimated their future happiness, and it was not uncommon for them to be plagued by worries about the future, uncertainty, and fears.

The study showed that people feel happiest at age 64.

Another study by American-Canadian neuroscientist and author Daniel Levitin (62) concluded that the peak of happiness is not reached until the age of 82.

In his most recent book, "The Changing Mind", he writes that general satisfaction decreases in a person’s 30s and does not return until age 54. It then increases and reaches its peak at 82.

A study by the British-American economist David Blanchflower (68) also showed that in Western countries, the lowest point of happiness is reached at 47.2 years - so the midlife crisis really does exist. Blanchflower analysed data of 500,000 people from 132 countries.

What exactly makes you happy?

There are many reasons why a person feels happier as they age.

One of them is that the neurochemistry in the brain changes as we get older. Another is that our own attitude changes.

We often realize that we’ve already experienced a lot. This realization understandably comes later in life. During younger ages, people are often burdened with worries.

What makes us happy? Life experience.

The German psychologist and gerontologist Andreas Kumpf also asked what happiness is all about. He featured 21 stories of people between 65 and 95 and packed his findings in the book "Happiness in Old Age". It’s difficult to generalize what exactly constitutes joy - there are too many different elements. There is no easy recipe for happiness. However, one thing has emerged quite clearly from his conversations:

Friends, with whom you can talk openly, and a strong social network make a significant contribution to happiness as you grow older. Therefore, friendships during aging are fundamental.

The psychiatrist and professor at Harvard Medical School, Robert Waldinger, came to the same conclusion. He heads the so-called Grant Study at Harvard - it has been running for 75 years and analyses what is valuable in life. His words are more than clear: "A good life consists of good relationships."

The best advice for a good life

Professor Laurie Santos' most popular Yale lectures are now available online for free. Watch her lecture on the "Science of Well-Being".

Robert Waldinger explains in his inspiring TED Talk what the results of the Grant Study are all about. The grant study is a longitudinal study on happiness that has been conducted continuously at Harvard since 1938.

Author Brené Brown gives 7 tips that will make your life easier. Wonderful!

Dan Gilbert, author of "Stumbling on Happiness", also dives into how a person can live a happy life.

"You can't win the game of life. You can only play it", says management coach Dieter Lange in his lecture (in German). Inspiring and eye-opening.


Individual and Societal Wisdom: Explaining the Paradox of Human Aging and High Well-Being

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