June 1, 2010

"It’s a very encouraging fact that we can expect to be happier in our early 80s than we were in our 20s."

"And it’s not being driven predominantly by things that happen in life. It’s something very deep and quite human that seems to be driving this."

18 comments:

NotYourTypicalNewYorker said...

This maybe so...if the ObamaCare (tm) "death panel" doesn't get you first.

wv: jouroo

You'll need a jouroo of peers to get the treatment you require at that advanced age.

Fred4Pres said...

Is it because many of the unhappy ones are already dead?

William said...

"You love that best which thou must leave ere long." I hope I have the quote right. My memory is starting to go.

Scott said...

Maybe there's something to that. My 80-something Dad, the geriatric Casanova, is having more sex now at the assisted living home than he ever did while my Mom was alive.

Paddy O said...

I immediately think of Erikson's stages of development. In the last stage "Ego Integrity vs. Despair" which occurs, normally, after 65 (quoting from wikipedia:

* Psychosocial Crisis: Ego Integrity vs. Despair
* Main Question: "Have I lived a full life?"
* Virtue: Wisdom

As we grow older and become senior citizens we tend to slow down our productivity and explore life as a retired person. It is during this time that we contemplate our accomplishments and are able to develop integrity if we see ourselves as leading a successful life. If we see our life as unproductive, or feel that we did not accomplish our life goals, we become dissatisfied with life and develop despair, often leading to depression and hopelessness.

The final developmental task is retrospection: people look back on their lives and accomplishments. They develop feelings of contentment and integrity if they believe that they have led a happy, productive life. They may instead develop a sense of despair if they look back on a life of disappointments and unachieved goals.


Which makes me think that Fred4Press is pretty close to being right. To live to that age probably requires a bit of psychosocial contentment, otherwise the ravages of stress and despair would have already broken down most people's bodies.

In the 20s, everything is still yet to be done--so the uncertainty and stress make a person discontent (and rightfully so). In the 50s, a person is pretty much on a settled path, but it's not really settled, not fully so. A person can't really rest on their laurels--well very few can.

prairie wind said...

"To live happily is an inward power of the soul."
~ Marcus Aurelius

And Abraham Lincoln, I think, said, "A man is about as happy as he makes up his mind to be."

Maybe by the time we're old, we've figured that out.

halojones-fan said...

Ah-heh. If I were in my eighties, almost everything would be free, and what isn't free is available at heavy discounts. The entire modern medical industry would be devoted to keeping me healthy and happy and active--and, again, all for minimal cost.

Meanwhile, twenty-year-olds are being told that it's their duty to work ten hours a day to keep the eighty-year-olds in clover. (Because, after all, a retired lightbulb installer who dropped out of high school and spent the next thirty years driving a truck around a suburban town is clearly more important to society that someone designing an X-ray machine that doesn't give you cancer.) Oh, and there's no guarantee that you'll have a job tomorrow. Who can blame the twenty-year-old for being a little upset?

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Happy just to be alive.

dick said...

I think a lot of the pressure is gone and you can take the time to look around and see what is out there. Talk to an older person and you willsee that they don't miss much at all and normally as not as judgmental.

I was always a bit of a workaholic when I was working and never thought I would want to retire. Now that I am retired, I find that there are so many things to be interested in and so much to do that I never took the time before. I have friends who call and vent about their jobs just as I used to. I listen and think I am so glad I don't have to put up with that any more. I can totally believe this finding as it is true in my case and I am 70.

Joe said...

Looking back at my early twenties, I'm amazed at how much familial, religious and societal pressure there was "TO DO SOMETHING."

By my late twenties, I had two children and that is far more stressful than I thought it would be (though nothing compared to when those two--especially those two--became teenagers.)

Had I to do it over again, I would have flipped the bird at the stupid religion I was raised in, graduated high school early and gone to California and just lived life for a little bit on my own. I would have traveled more. (Funny thing is that I encouraged my kids to do just that and they refuse. Baffles me to no end.)

MadisonMan said...

I think Fred is right -- the unhappy ones die. They're making everyone else miserable too. Net result: everyone is happier.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Sorry about the ad in my previous link.

Part of the happiness you have at 80 as opposed to 20 is that you don't have a lot of big long range goals to accomplish or pressure to accomplish.

It is just a victory to get up everyday, enjoy the sunshine, maybe to a little gardening or reading. Plus....no one gives you a hard time about taking naps.

XWL said...

Without a time machine, you really can't compare a 25 year old with an 85 year old.

If you were to have surveyed the current crop of 85 year olds when they were 25, it might be that they would have reported the same levels of happiness (or better) as they do now, and their outlook is what lead to their relative longevity.

Also, an 85 year old has seen a lot of crap in their lives, someone born in 1925 would have been young during a real depression, a teen during the last global war, and an adult throughout a long protracted cold war.

Hard not to think that from that perspective, things today seem relatively good. Plus, at that age, chances are, you aren't responsible for much, other than waking up each day, so that can also contribute to a perception of happiness, or at least gratefulness, which may translate to happiness in a phone survey.

By the same token, if you were able to know which 25 year olds you surveyed today would still be alive 60 years from now, and eliminate the responses from those that weren't, you might find the reported happiness levels comparable to the current crop of oldsters.

In other words, broad phone surveys are useless, and trying to compare results over multiple generations is especially un-useful.

edutcher said...

By 85, you know how to handle life's vicissitudes, so that makes sense, as does Fred's comment about the unhappy ones. Aren't there a ton of surveys saying happy people live long (watch out, Lefties)?

NYTNY has a point, though; I think a lot more people are going to be concerned about their Golden Years than have been in a long time.

PS "hedonic well-being"? I know there's a word 'hedonistic' in the English language, but what is this hedonic? Union teachers strike again!

sunsong said...

A wise old woman with her power. My mom, 88 now, still teaching part time. A professor. Years ago she told me that she started taking her power back in her 50’s. Power she had given away to all kinds of authorities and experts and institutions, and, of course, family. Karl Jung speaks of the 50’s as time of spiritual growth – either one becomes serious about that in their 50’s or it doesn’t happen, Jung felt.

If you continue to learn and grow you will be more in your old age. Some people stop – they quit at a certain age. You can see it. How wonderful to see that so many don’t. 80 and above are the fastest growing demographic. That is also exciting.

My mom says that she does not want to be somebody’s sweet old lady – and she isn’t :-) She self-defines as a crone. “And don’t mess with a crone”, she says. They may look frail, they may move slowly – but don’t mess with a crone. She no longer concerns herself with being *acceptable*. She says what she thinks, she feels what she feels – she is not embarrassed. She is loving and compassionate and can so easily say no. Recently she refused a medical work-up that some specialist wanted. They were shocked :-) They called in *authorities* to talk to her. She refused. Not needed she told them. She won’t wait more than 20 minutes for anyone :-)

She has lost many friends. You either get old or you die, she says. It is hard to lose a friend of forty or fifty years. She makes new friends. Young friends. She has a friend who is 92 and fascinating. A writer. They talk and talk. It is wonderful to have peers. There is a wisdom that only age can bring.

Some, sadly, only ever see the sick or the institutionalized elderly. Betty White is 88. I’m sure she’s happy :-) Linkletter just died at 97. My mom cautions not to retire from but to retire to…
Boredom will kill you. You need a positive purpose – a reason to be getting out of bed – whatever your age. Read Victor Frankl.

As the baby boomers age – everything is changing. They are not getting off the stage…

“How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you was.” - Satchel

Tyrone Slothrop said...

I am far happier at fifty-six than I was at twenty-one, in spite of failing eyesight and myriad aches and pains. I think I wasn't sure at twenty-one whether I was worth anything-- whether I was up to the demands of life that my father, for one, seemed to take in stride. Now I have raised a family, my kids are almost adults, and I really like them. I'm proud of most of the things I've done and I don't feel any more pressure to adapt to peoples' requirements of me.

Eric said...

When you're 20 you have time to accomplish something, so the expectation from yourself and others is you will. There's a lot of pressure in that and also in the feeling you don't know what the hell you're doing.

When you're 80 you've realized nobody knows what they're doing, and every day you wake up starts with a victory.

Be said...

One of my best friends - a fellow ex-Buffalonian who I met through the last work - just turned 67. She's working her a$$ off, but in a new job in a new state (made the move from Boston to Abilene) and is loving it. I look at her and just know that, if I keep on the path of straightening me out like she had to do, I'll be okay. (Hope and Change!)