Recent research indicates that mental well-being actually increases after middle age, even as physical quality of life declines.
All those popular media images of grouchy old people yelling at neighborhood kids to get off their lawns? Those stereotypes are about to go right out the window—at least, according to researchers at the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom. A recent study that evaluated over 10,000 older adults in the UK and the US indicates that getting older actually makes us…happier.
Our perception of senior citizens as “grumpy old men” is a pervasive one, but it turns out not to be particularly accurate. A previous University of Warwick study showed that happiness levels follow a U-shaped curve, with the lowest point being in the mid-40s, after which people grew happier as they got older. The recent study, co-authored by Dr. Saverio Stranges and Dr. Kandala Ngianga-Bakwin, shows that this trend in senior living applies cross-culturally, and holds true for two countries with very different health care and welfare systems.
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“This could be due to better coping abilities,” said Dr. Stranges in a press release. “Older people tend to have internal mechanisms to deal better with hardship or negative circumstances than those who are younger.” An alternative to the life-experience theory is the possibility that older people are just more comfortable being themselves.
“It could also be due to a lowering of expectations from life, with older people less likely to put pressure on themselves in the personal and professional spheres.”
Another interesting fact revealed in the study: the results hold true even for overweight seniors. Being overweight or obese did not have a significant effect on happiness levels, and people with a BMI over 30 reported similar mental quality of life as those at a healthier weight. This, too, has been supported by previous research.
This is good news for ourselves and our loved ones—instead of approaching the upcoming golden years as a time of potential hardship, we can remind ourselves that physical health is just one aspect of aging. Mental quality of life is arguably just as important, perhaps more so, and research is showing that we have cause for optimism in that regard, as we discover the strong correlation between older age and happiness.
Have your loved ones gotten happier or grumpier with age? We want to hear your stories and comments.