Learning to Be Happy at Any Age

Aging gracefully starts with finding peace, hope and resilience as the years march on.

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Posted in , Jun 7, 2018

Happy older couple

I’ve heard it said that happiness is a journey, not a destination. The idea that we can find our way back to happiness at every stop along the journey of life is comforting, reassuring—and, it turns out, supported by research that encourages us to cultivate a positive view of aging. 

Psychologists who study aging are exploring the relationship between one’s attitude toward the aging process and the emotional and physical health outcomes that follow. It turns out that a positive view of aging is associated with better overall health, as well as generalized emotional wellness. 

This idea can be helpful to young people as well as older adults. A popular class at Yale, nicknamed “the happiness class” but actually titled, “Psychology and the Good Life,” attracted 1,200 undergraduates when it was first offered this year. l Professor Laurie Santos, who created the class, told the Boston Globe that in creating it, “The goal was to rewire the way the students viewed the pursuit of happiness.” 

With a positive foundation like the one Santos advocates, we can next set our sights on how we pursue happiness as we age. William Chopik, an assistant professor of psychology at Michigan State University, surveyed more than half a million Americans and found that as people got older, the age they reported they “felt’ actually grew younger.

According to the Washington Post, Chopik surmised this phenomenon could “arise from people feeling good about themselves and their bodies, and coming to the realization that, because of their negative beliefs about what it must feel like to be an older adult that ‘I must not be old.’”

Another study, conducted at the Boston University School of Public Health, connected a positive outlook toward aging with a measure of protection against disease, particularly dementia. Even among those who carry a gene associated with dementia, the risk of developing the disease went down in those who had generally positive views of growing older. “Exposing older individuals to negative age stereotypes exacerbates stress, whereas exposing them to positive age stereotypes can act as a buffer against experiencing stress,” Paola Sebastiani, the study’s author, told the Post.

Happiness through the years—and decades—is, in short, a goal worth pursuing. No matter where you are in your journey, you can take one step closer toward abiding happiness by raising your sights to the joys and benefits of getting older. 

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