Opinion

Aging into happiness

I’ve gotten phone calls from my grandmother in which she tells me tidbits like these: She just saw a beautiful rainbow and it reminded her of God’s gifts and beauty. She knew the answer to the Final Jeopardy question. She got a phone call from her cousin, or son, or a neighbor. She ate a wonderful pastry.

And all of these things make my 87-year-old grandmother ecstatic. She is so easily pleased that I can’t even comprehend it sometimes.

She’s a recent widow. She’s a two-time cancer patient. She grew up without a mother, after my great-grandmother died during childbirth. Her father abandoned her. She lived through the Great Depression, war, not much income and health woes.

But she is, without a doubt, the sweetest, happiest person I know.

I’ll admit this makes me feel kind of bad about myself. While I’m wearing all black and complaining about the world when my life has admittedly been pretty darn rosy, someone with an entire life behind her—one entailing woes and tragedy—is significantly happier.

So when I read about a new study that found that happiness actually comes with age, it sounded about right to me.

Though some past studies have shown the elderly may be more prone to depression and loneliness, the study published by Psychological Science found that happiness may actually rise after middle age.

What does have more of an impact on happiness factors is life situations reflecting when people were born—say the Great Depression. It also can be interesting to find out how current generations—those searching unsuccessfully for jobs in this poor economic climate—will react later in life, researchers note.

But fortunately, even those born in tough times will see some rise in happiness with age—or at least they won’t become unhappier.

“Relative to their starting point, all of the cohorts increased rather than decreased in well-being with age,” the study authors write.

Though it’s easy to assume that older people are unhappier—they’ve suffered loss and are often less energetic or able to do things as their younger counterparts, after all—maybe that assumption comes from our own perception. They don’t have to work themselves to death, for one; they have more wisdom and confidence, and they can enjoy what they’ve accomplished—often including their children and grandchildren. (Plus younger or middle-aged people are usually the ones dreading birthdays after they hit around 25, right?)

Perhaps more than anything, though, it’s the ability of the elderly to really put things in perspective. Crappy things happen, as do good things, and you just have to deal with it either way.

As my grandfather—a man who was comically bitter—used to tell me when I asked how he was: “I can’t complain. You know, I eat good.”

Now that’s a lesson for all us—and probably particularly for someone like me. I may not be the most optimistic person, but I do eat pretty good. Happiness shouldn’t be too far away.

 

About the Author
Kathryn Mayer

Kathryn Mayer

Kathryn Mayer is Managing Editor for Benefits Selling magazine. She can be reached at kmayer@sbmedia.com

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