If you still have the good fortune to gather with parents, grandparents, aunts, or uncles during the holidays, you could actually learn something about being happier.
A new study found that people become progressively happier as they get older.
Despite the aches and pains that accompany aging, it appears that mental anguish actually diminishes.
This revelation certainly flies in the face of conventional wisdom, which suggests that emotional health declines as we get older. After all, haven’t we all heard of the proverbial “midlife crisis”?
But this large study showed steady improvement in happiness through mid-life and into old age. It also found that people in their 20s and 30s had higher levels of anxiety and depression, and worse psychological health overall, than older adults.
With age, comes wisdom and happiness
For this study, researchers examined physical health, mental health, and cognitive function in 1,546 men and women, ages 21 to 100, in San Diego County. “Mental health” not only included psychological well-being, but also satisfaction with life, and lower levels of perceived stress, anxiety and depression.
The researchers discovered that although the older group had more physical and cognitive health problems than their younger counterparts, they were significantly happier. In fact, study participants reported that they felt better about themselves and their lives year after year, decade after decade.
Meanwhile, the researchers noted that levels of psychological distress and mental illness appear to be rising among young adults.
Of course, people with very serious mental and physical health problems are less likely to survive into older age. But for those who do attain senior citizen status, the researchers believe better mental health may be due to increased wisdom.
That means learning not to “sweat the small things,” and realizing that life’s problems are usually not as bad as they may seem — and most tend to resolve over time.
Age also tends to lead to improvement in emotional regulation and making complex decisions about social situations. And many older people learn to cultivate happy memories and let the unhappy memories fade.
It might all be summed up in the adage: “Give me the strength to change the things I can, the forbearance to accept those I can’t, and the wisdom to tell the difference.”
That might make a good opening, or closing, statement at your holiday meal this year (before asking “what’s the score in that NFL game?”).
“Paradoxical Trend for Improvement in Mental Health With Aging,” J Clin Psychiatry 2016;77(8):e1019–e1025