With Age Comes Happiness

David Niven, PhD., wrote in his book “The 100 Simple Secrets of Happy People,” – happy people let themselves be happy.  Unhappy people continue to do things that upset them.

Older people find happiness in life’s common daily events. That is the conclusion of a new study titled, “Happiness from Ordinary and Extraordinary Experiences,” written by Amit Bhattacharjee and Cassie Mogilner, to be published in the Journal of Consumer Research in June 2014. The study reports that young people who are still trying to determine who they want to become tend to seek out extraordinary (uncommon and infrequent) experiences to establish their personal identity. But as people age and settle down, they tend to value life’s ordinary (common and frequent) experiences more. The study’s findings were drawn from eight different studies that asked participants to recall, plan, and imagine happy experiences to draw a distinction between what was ordinary and what was extraordinary.

In one study, approximately 200 participants, who were between the ages of 18 to 79, were asked to recall a recent extraordinary experience that made them happy. The responses were then assigned to 12 broad categories that included spending time with others, life milestones, and travel. Researchers noted that although all age groups reported happiness in extraordinary experiences, study results indicated that happiness from ordinary experiences was more common among older adults.

Another study that focused on happiness between older and younger people found that there is a U–shaped bend to people’s level of happiness as they age. This study was conducted by researchers at Stony Brook University and titled “A Snapshot of the Age Distribution of Psychological Well-being in the United States.” The researchers in that study interviewed people between the ages of 18 and 85 about  their happiness. The study found that stress levels were the highest in people between 22 and 25 years of age, however, these levels dropped dramatically when people reached their 50s. 

Happiness increases for people as young adults but when they turn 30 levels of happiness tends to decrease during middle age.  After people hit their 50s, their happiness levels start to increase again despite money issues, employment status or children. This rise and fall in happiness levels seems to hold true for people across cultural differences.  The report noted that happiness levels were highest in young adults and those in their early 70s, with the greatest feelings of happiness reported in those 85 years and older. The study also noted that men and women have similar emotional patterns as they age; however, women of all ages tended to report more feelings of stress, sadness and worry than men. The theory behind increased levels of happiness as people age is that people become more thankful for what they have and they are able to control their emotions better. They also spend less time on negative or sad experiences. 

A study titled “To Do, To Have, Or To Share? Valuing Experiences Over Material Possessions Depends On The Involvement Of Others” published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, reports that spending money on acquiring life experiences make people happier than acquiring material possessions. It is the sharing of experiences with other people that gives people the most pleasure. 

A study in Scientific American reports that researchers found, after managing variables such as health, wealth, gender, ethnicity and education, the feeling of overall happiness increases over time. Unfortunately people who have lived through extreme hardship, such as the Great Depression, start life off with less happiness than those who started life comfortably. This explains why tough times can influence an entire generation’s happiness for the rest of their lives. The good news is, no matter what we’ve lived through, we can all look forward to feeling more content as we age.

So what are the reasons that people seem to be happier as they get older. Theories suggest that happiness comes from:

  • Increased wisdom in handling life’s problems.
  • Fewer wants and expectations.
  • A sense of contentment and accomplishment.
  • A greater appreciation for life.
  • Living for today instead of worrying about the future.
  • The ability to handle one’s emotions.
  • Not worrying about trying to please others.
  • Recalling positive memories more often than negative ones.
  • A propensity to view situations more positively.

So whatever generation you belong  — “YOLO (you only live once)” or “Carpe Diem” – find your happiness today.