|Happiness is a state of mind|
|Tuesday, 03 February 2009 00:00|
A recent Washington Post report has detailed how a number of studies suggest that aging actually contributes to overall happiness.
The studies show that when you check on how happy people are at various ages, the elderly generally come out ahead.
Since 1972, researchers have conducted 50,000 detailed interviews with Americans. The questions of the General Social Survey are repeated year after year to enable researchers to detect trends and to make comparisons among groups and to see how the same people change over time. One question asks whether they are very happy, pretty happy or not too happy.
"An important finding was people who were biologically older are happier than younger adults," said Tom W. Smith, of the University of Chicago, who is the director of the General Social Survey.
The study, conducted by researcher Yang Yang at the University of Chicago, used the detail of the survey to eliminate the possibility that older people seemed happier because they were raised in a generation that was taught from an early age to be content with its lot.
Rather, Yang found, in research published in the American Sociological Review, those older than 65 had not always been happy. It was being older that conferred the contentment that many of them reported.
"It is counter to most people's expectations," Yang said. "People would expect it to be in the opposite direction - you start off by saying older people have illnesses, deaths of spouses - they must be less happy."
Yang said other colleagues had also examined the phenomenon from a different perspective, by asking people about their problems - including physical ailments, problems with relationships, losing a beloved family member and becoming the victim of a crime. Older people reported a larger number of health problems but tended to report far fewer difficulties overall - fewer financial, interpersonal and crime problems.
The younger adults had less trouble with their health but had many more of the other kinds of predicaments, and those, in the long run, tended to trump their better health.
Another study looked at job satisfaction among people of different ages and again found that those who kept working past age 65 had the highest level of job satisfaction - going against the stereotype that older people keep working mostly because they can't do without the money.
While a lot of people think of those working in their 60s and 70s as trapped in their jobs, the study found that most of the people who continue working are people who like their jobs. Those who don’t generally retire and pursue other things.
In a 2005 study examining 500 Americans between the ages of 60 and 98 who were independent and had lived with a range of age-related diseases (cancer, heart disease, diabetes, mental health conditions and a host of other ills), it was found the participants rated their happiness on average 8.4, on a scale of 1-10, (10 being the best).
The research, led by Dilip Jeste of the University of California at San Diego, discovered that people who think they are aging well are not necessarily the healthiest individuals.
“In fact, optimism and effective coping styles were found to be more important to successfully aging than traditional measures of health and wellness,” Jeste said. “These findings suggest that physical health is not the best indicator of successful aging - attitude is.”
“The commonly used criteria suggest that a person is aging well if they have a low level of disease and disability,” Jeste said. “However, this study shows that self-perception about aging can be more important than the traditional success markers.”
The study also showed that people who spent time each day socialising, reading or participating in other hobbies rated their aging satisfaction higher.
“For most people, worries about their future aging involve fear of physical infirmity, disease or disability,” Jeste said. “However, this study is encouraging because it shows that the best predictors of successful aging are well within an individual’s control.”
Another indicator that health and happiness may indeed be largely in the mind is research undertaken in 2005 which revealed that the sick and people with a disability are often as happy as anyone else.
They adapt to their condition and show a resilience of spirit that many healthy people can't imagine, researchers said.
“Our snapshots revealed that these people were in good moods the vast majority of the time, and that their moods were not substantially worse than those of the healthy people,” said researcher Jason Riis, who was a graduate student at the University of Michigan when the study was conducted.
Yet another study, released in 2004 and led by Erik Giltay of the Psychiatric Center GGZ Delfland, in The Netherlands, found that people who described themselves as highly optimistic a decade ago had lower rates of death from cardiovascular disease and lower overall death rates than strong pessimists.