As I’ve noted before, I’ve done a lot of reading on happiness. One consistent finding of studies across the spectrum is that older people are happier than the rest of us.
Despite the declining health that accompanies old age, study after study finds that happiness increases into our senior years.
The freedom of childhood is less happy. The health of young adulthood doesn’t compare. The financial stability of middle age doesn’t do it for us.
So what is it about seniors that makes them happy? And what can we learn from them?
The research is less conclusive on this issue. While everyone agrees that older folks are happier, there is great disagreement on why.
Today I want to explore a range of theories and discuss what we can learn from them. For the sake of trying to make our own lives happier, we will assume for today that all of these factors contribute to increased happiness in one way or another.
Focus on the Positive
A number of studies have found that one major reason older people are happier is that they focus on the positive.
Older folks tend to focus on happy memories more than sad memories. They think about the things they’ve achieved more than the things they’ve failed to achieve. They remember positive situations more than negative ones.
Studies also show that older adults are better at avoiding negative situations in the present. For example, they are quicker to cut out friends and acquaintances who bring them down.
Avoiding these people may feel like something that will cause social problems for you if you are young. Luckily for older folks, they have said in studies that one of the things that makes them the most happy is that they no longer care what people think.
This newfound ability allows older adults to avoid the negative and focus on the positive. This is something that the rest of us could aspire to.
Accept the negative
When older folks can’t avoid the negative, they accept it.
Studies have found that seniors are much better at accepting negative emotions and moving on. They are better able to recognize that some things are outside of our control and we do not benefit from our worrying about them.
One suspected reason is that “as people grow old, they experience more life events that are out of their control, such as disease and the death of loved ones.” As people encounter these events more often, they become better at dealing with them.
This acceptance of negative events outside of your control leads to great benefits. Older folks are less stressed, anxious, and angry than younger folks due to this ability.
If we can work towards accepting the things that are outside of our control, we too can harness these benefits.
Another age-related finding is that people trust more as they get older.
This one seems much less directly connected to happiness at first glance. What does trust have to do with happiness?
It turns out, though, that trust actually does boost happiness. Trust in a someone else allows you to receive more benefits from that relationship, including support and comfort. Having more supportive and stronger relationships makes you happier.
And if one strong relationship makes you happy, then two strong relationships makes you even happier. If you are the type of person who is trusting, then you inject these benefits into all of your relationships.
If we trusted each other more, we could capture those happiness bonuses, as well.
Appreciate the Ordinary
One study compared happiness derived from ordinary experiences to happiness derived from extraordinary experiences. Think a walk in the park near your house compared to a trip overseas.
What the study found is that the happiness that we experience from extraordinary experiences is consistent over our lifespan. Everyone gets happiness boosts from this type of experience, whether you’re 18 or 80.
Ordinary experiences, on the other hand, grow more powerful over time. Younger folks, on the whole, don’t get much enjoyment out of that walk in the park. Older folks revel in it.
The general presumption is that this is because young people take ordinary experiences for granted. We foresee a long future and we can take that walk whenever we want and as often as we want. There’s no reason to value it right now.
Older folks recognize that our time here is limited. Every day is a gift and every experience, whether ordinary or extraordinary is something to savor.
This allows seniors to tap into an unlimited source of happiness that many of us miss out on every day.
Any other theories out there that I missed? Any thoughts that you have on why seniors are happier than the rest of us? Do you incorporate any of these tips in your life? Let us know in the comments!