How does happiness change as we age? Where are baby boomers on the spectrum? That’s what Julie Gorges writes about, from La Quinta, California, for BoomerCafé.
Maybe you assume that children live a happy, carefree life, then the teen and young-adult years are full of turmoil and confusion, but then as middle-aged adults we became happier, wiser, and more settled, until we begin melting into seniors and turn depressed and grumpy.
If that’s your assumption, you’re wrong. A recent report published in Psychological Science and research by the National Opinion Research Center all point to the same conclusion: while the statistics in these happiness studies vary slightly, older people -– and even the younger generation -– generally are happier than us baby boomers. In fact, a 2012 AARP study confirmed that there is a U-shaped happiness curve, with the early 50′s — that’s a significant chunk of our baby boomer generation — as the lowest point of well-being.
As a 53-year-old, this raises my eyebrows. I know from personal experience that hitting the mid-century mark can be a bit disenchanting. In my case, it meant menopause which resulted in insomnia and panic attacks, a colonoscopy, shoulder surgery, a dental implant, and watching my parents’ health rapidly decline. Many boomers face worries about financial security and retirement, the difficulties of raising teenagers, looming college tuitions, adult children moving back home, and caring for aging parents, which all can cause middle age melancholy.
But despite my own challenges, I didn’t consider myself unhappy or miserable and was surprised to learn that my age group statistically is the unhappiest. I was curious about why this was the case. After all, the elderly have plenty of problems too, so why are they happier than our generation?
Before I continue, I’m not saying that some of them don’t fit the typical stereotype and aren’t lonely, depressed, cranky, and miserable. Truth be known, we all know elderly people who make us secretly vow that we’ll never be like them. But despite stereotypes of grumpy old men and women, several studies show that they view themselves as happier than us. That should at least give us pause for thought.
A variety of theories are floating around as to why this is the case. Most base these happiness findings less on life circumstances and more on a change in outlook that kicks in after middle age. After all, as you probably already know, the older we get, the wiser we get. Some psychologists believe that cognitive processes are responsible for older people’s happiness, including focusing on good memories and pushing aside negative ones. Other studies have discovered that as people age, they seek out situations that will lift their moods; for example, eliminating friends, family, or acquaintances from their lives who bring nothing but negativity. Older adults are also better at letting go ofdisappointment and regret. Facing their own mortality and aware their time is more limited, the elderly tend to feel more grateful and savor the moment. This can all lead to contentment and tranquility.
Why wait until we’re older to adapt some of these strategies? Don’t gasp, but maybe it’s time for our authority-averse, rebellious boomer generation to change our attitude about listening to our elders. Perhaps we can learn something from the generation that precedes us and find our bliss now.
Julie Gorges writes online at her blog, BabyBoomerBliss.net.