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Getting Older and Feeling Great Joy — Despite All Our Ills

“The longer I live, the more beautiful life becomes.” – Frank Lloyd Wright

While some people may think that the older you get, the worse your quality of life and well-being becomes. Yet, there are growing numbers of men and women who may now have some silver or gray strands of hair and other age-related signs who’ll tell you they’ve never felt happier. They greet each day with hope and enthusiasm, feeling confident, purposeful, grateful and filled with joy. This, despite an assortment of ailments, frailties, medical conditions and gradual slowing down.

How can it be? Does this older generation know something the millennials and younger age groups don’t? Is this a learned behavior or do they come by it naturally? Whatever the reason, and we’re not likely to be able to scientifically discern the true cause, it is reason for celebration. After all, life is finite and short, in comparison to age of the planet and other seemingly infinite things. It is, therefore, all the more precious for its brevity.

Cancer can’t get these folks down.

A University of Toronto study from researchers at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work finds that two-thirds of patients currently diagnosed with cancer and in excess of 75 percent of former cancer patients 50 and older are “mentally flourishing despite their illness.” What this means is the study participants are happy and satisfied with their life almost every day and say they have very high levels of psychological and social well-being. They feel their life has meaning or a sense of direction and they enjoy warm, trusting relationships with others.

Researchers noted that only those who were free of mental illness (such as depression or anxiety) and had no substance dependence or thoughts of suicide in the past year were classified as in complete mental health. Among the current or former cancer individuals, complete mental health likelihood was higher for women, white, married, and older study participants, plus those of higher income and participants without pain that disabled them or limited functioning.

The results of this study are such a wonderful testament to cancer patients’ resiliency and an overwhelmingly positive message to their families.

Older people who are happy live longer.

Science just proved it. Researchers at Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore found that an increase in happiness in individuals aged 60 and older living in Singapore was directly proportional to living longer. Interestingly, researchers noted that even small increments of happiness may be beneficial to longevity. They said their findings of consistency of the inverse association of happiness with longevity across gender and age groups shows that all – men and women, young and old and old-old – are likely to benefit from an increase in happiness.

Planning a vacation boosts happiness.

Everyone knows vacations are supposed to be relaxing and fun, if not the opportunity to explore something new. Yet, the anticipation of that trip away, the planning of the vacation, actually boosts happiness that lasts for eight weeks. That’s according to a 2010 study published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life. While the study did not mention age of participants, the research findings seem particularly apropos for older adults who often have more time to plan getaways than those immersed in busy careers or raising young children. Besides, when you’ve got the freedom to pore over catalogs and peruse websites to arrange that special trip together, it generates a feeling of closeness and excitement that rises to the level of happiness.

Why are older people happier?

Various studies report that older adults are happier than their younger cohorts, with a number of psychologists suggesting that cognitive processes are in play, as reported in Perspectives on Psychological Science. While some researchers point out that older adults shown pictures involving people or situations in the past tend to remember more the happy ones than the negative ones. Other studies found that people become more selective in their social circles as they age, weeding out individuals who bring them down and gravitating more toward those who make them feel better. Another study finding that older adults tend to release feelings of disappointment and loss about unrealized goals and, instead, reshape their efforts toward greater well-being.

Older adults report feeling happier decade by decade.

Findings published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry by researchers from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine pinpoint a seeming paradox in older adults: their psychological well-being seemed to get consistently better over time. The study’s older participants were not super-normal healthy adults, either, as most of them were physically more disabled than younger participants. The study looked at not only psychological well-being, but also mental health, which is broader in definition and includes life satisfaction and low levels of anxiety, stress and depression. Of note is the observation that happier older adults have learned “not to sweat out the little things,” and that things previously considered big become smaller or less important over time. Results also reiterated an explanation found by previous studies that feeling happier is partly due to increased wisdom with age.

Cognitive decline and happiness can co-exist.

Two University of Kentucky researchers looked at “cognitive life expectancy” and found that older adults can anticipate being happy even if they develop cognitive impairment later in life. The study included 53,000 responses from 15,000 participants aged 65 and older who participated in a Health and Retirement study between 1998 and 2014. Among the test questions, which included ability to recall words and other tasks, was the one that asked about participants’ happiness. As stigma and fear often accompany a diagnosis or thought of declining cognitive ability, especially during the second half of half of adult lives, researchers wanted to examine how long older adults live with “good versus declining brain health.” Researchers conclusions: “Happy years of life were shown to substantially exceed the number of years one can expect to live with some cognitive impairment…”.

Getting Older and Feeling Great Joy — Despite All Our Ills


Suzanne Kane

Suzanne Kane is a Los Angeles-based writer, blogger and editor. Passionate about helping others live a vibrant and purposeful life, she writes daily for her website, www.suzannekane.net. She is a regular contributor to Psych Central. You can reach her at [email protected].


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APA Reference
Kane, S. (2018). Getting Older and Feeling Great Joy — Despite All Our Ills. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 27, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/getting-older-and-feeling-great-joy-despite-all-our-ills/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 15 Sep 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 15 Sep 2018
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