Grumpy old men. It's a stereotype so rich that they managed to make two movies with that exact title. But are seniors genuinely unhappy compared to everyone else?
Evidently, despite the physical impairments that tend to arise with advanced aging, the older we get, the happier we are, finds a new study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.
In fact, compared with their 20- and 30-something counterparts, seniors are much more upbeat and consistently get better over time.
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For the study, researchers at the University of California, San Diego studied the physical and mental health of 1,546 adults ages 21 to 100. The researchers oversampled adults over 75, but participants were evenly split by gender.
To the researchers' surprise, the oldest study participants had mental health significantly better than the youngest cohort, in spite of a measurable decline in physical and cognitive ability.
In fact, among 20- and 30-somethings, high levels of stress as well as symptoms of depression and anxiety were more common."This 'fountain of youth' period is associated with far worse levels of psychological well-being than any other period of adulthood," co-author Dilip Jeste said in a statement.
So why exactly are older adults so much more positive than the rest of us? It's not clear based on the results of the current study. Could it simply be the wisdom of age?
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Well, in part, we're more able to cope with stress as we get older. In 2010, a study published in the journal Psychology and Aging found that older individuals are more emotionally stable than their younger counterparts. That stability makes it easier to solve emotional problems. Because those problems don't drag on, older people experience fewer negative emotions and are therefore happier, the study's authors reasoned.
A 2014 study published in the Journal of Consumer Research suggests that older adults are more content with ordinary experiences, compared with younger people who associate extraordinary experiences with greater happiness. In other words, seniors are more inclined to find joy in their day-to-day lives, while younger people seem to be happier taking breaks from their routine.
Whatever the reasons for older adults being happy, the combined research should allay the concerns of anyone terrified of growing older. It's not all doom and gloom as we age. The golden years can be just as bright and sunny as their name implies.
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