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Happiness: The Silver Lining of Growing Older

Stria Staff February 17, 2020

Don’t believe what you hear. Growing older is most often characterized by happiness, not despair.

Aging is a journey of joyous and challenging experiences, colored by gains, losses, reflection and possibly even some regrets. But research is proving that, despite it all, most of us find a greater sense of happiness.

We know all about the misconception that growing old is all about debility and dependence. And thanks to researchers from all over the world, many of these negative narratives are being disproved.

The following articles highlight that the truth about aging is that best part of life is still to come.

Headlines & Insights: Curated excerpts from thought-provoking articles

Finding Meaning and Happiness in Old Age
The New York Times | Jane E. Brody

Too many in our youth-focused culture currently regard the elderly with fear or disdain and consider them costly consumers of resources with little to offer in return. Given the explosive pace of technology that often befuddles the elderly, they command little or no respect for the repository of wisdom that was once cherished by the young (and still is in some traditional societies)….

[But] I already know that if and when my physical abilities become further curtailed, I can still enjoy meaningful conversations with these boys, who are all-too-quickly becoming young men. They may know how to reset my cellphone or find hidden channels on my television, but I can help them put their life experiences in perspective and support a decision to leave their comfort zone and take risks that offer growth potential.

As one of Dr Agronin’s [Dr. Marc E. Agronin, a geriatric psychiatrist at the Miami Jewish Home] youngest informants said, even when physical decline and losses restrict one’s options, there remains the capacity to appreciate and approach each day with a sense of purpose. “It’s all about how you frame what you have,” she told him.

Secrets of Happiness from the Oldest of the Old
Kiplinger’s Retirement Report | Mary Kane

Many of us worry about what our lives will be like in our final years. But after spending a year following six people ages 85 and older, The New York Times reporter John Leland came to some surprising conclusions about old age and contentment later in life. 

“We know from a lot of research that older people are more content with their lives than younger people are. Thinking like an older person is thinking about resilience and focusing on what is as opposed to what is not. Accepting your mortality by not being so afraid of it. When you are older, you view the time horizons in front of you differently. You understand the days are finite, and we might as well enjoy the ones we have left. The big lesson for me, the really practical one, is waking up in the morning and saying, “Thank God for another day.” It’s the conscious practice of gratitude.” [says Leland].

Why you Can Look Forward to Being Happier in Old Age
Time | Jeffrey Kluger

In some ways, our youth and middle years are really a sort of training period for the unanticipated pleasure of being an older adult, psychologist Alan D. Castel of the University of California, Los Angeles, argues in his new book, Better With Age: The Psychology of Successful Aging.

…old age is often a time defined not by sorrow, dread and regret but rather by peace, gratitude and fulfillment. Investigators looking into the happy senescence phenomenon attribute it to a lot of things: seniors become masters of “terror management theory” or “constructive distraction” or “voluntary affirmation of the obligatory.” In other words, they figure: I’m gonna die? What else is new? Meantime, I’ve got my grandkids here.

Older Adults Generally Get Happier Over Time, Study Suggests
Association of Health Care Journalists | Liz Seegert

A 20-year longitudinal study found that negative mood and depressive symptoms decreased significantly as women transition from mid-life (ages 50 to 64) to later life (65 and older). For many women, this appears to be related to the positivity around more “me” time as they wind down from full-time work and family responsibilities.

The women in this study reported feeling more patient, less tense, and tend to be less withdrawn as they entered their sixties, according to lead author Katherine Campbell, a psychologist at the University of Melbourne. By this age, menopausal symptoms have largely disappeared, and most have accepted and embraced the aging process, she concluded.

This story was created in partnership with students from the Department of Gerontology at Virginia Commonwealth University. Thanks to Rebecca Zenkevich for contributing research for this piece on happiness and aging.

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