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17265Happiness May Come With Age, Study Says

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  • medit8ionsociety
    Jun 2, 2010
      From the New York Times May 31, 2010
      Happiness May Come With Age, Study Says

      It is inevitable. The muscles weaken. Hearing and
      vision fade. We get wrinkled and stooped. We can't
      run, or even walk, as fast as we used to. We have
      aches and pains in parts of our bodies we never
      even noticed before. We get old.

      It sounds miserable, but apparently it is not. A large
      Gallup poll has found that by almost any measure,
      people get happier as they get older, and researchers
      are not sure why.

      "It could be that there are environmental changes,"
      said Arthur A. Stone, the lead author of a new study
      based on the survey, "or it could be psychological
      changes about the way we view the world, or it
      could even be biological — for example brain chemistry
      or endocrine changes."

      The telephone survey, carried out in 2008, covered
      more than 340,000 people nationwide, ages 18 to 85,
      asking various questions about age and sex, current
      events, personal finances, health and other matters.

      The survey also asked about "global well-being" by
      having each person rank overall life satisfaction
      on a 10-point scale, an assessment many people may
      make from time to time, if not in a strictly formalized way.

      Finally, there were six yes-or-no questions: Did
      you experience the following feelings during a large
      part of the day yesterday: enjoyment, happiness,
      stress, worry, anger, sadness. The answers, the
      researchers say, reveal "hedonic well-being," a
      person's immediate experience of those psychological
      states, unencumbered by revised memories or subjective
      judgments that the query about general life satisfaction
      might have evoked.

      The results, published online May 17 in the Proceedings
      of the National Academy of Sciences, were good news
      for old people, and for those who are getting old.
      On the global measure, people start out at age 18
      feeling pretty good about themselves, and then,
      apparently, life begins to throw curve balls. They
      feel worse and worse until they hit 50. At that point,
      there is a sharp reversal, and people keep getting
      happier as they age. By the time they are 85, they
      are even more satisfied with themselves than they
      were at 18.

      In measuring immediate well-being — yesterday's
      emotional state — the researchers found that stress
      declines from age 22 onward, reaching its lowest
      point at 85. Worry stays fairly steady until 50,
      then sharply drops off. Anger decreases steadily
      from 18 on, and sadness rises to a peak at 50,
      declines to 73, then rises slightly again to 85.
      Enjoyment and happiness have similar curves: they
      both decrease gradually until we hit 50, rise steadily
      for the next 25 years, and then decline very slightly
      at the end, but they never again reach the low point
      of our early 50s.

      Other experts were impressed with the work. Andrew J. Oswald,
      a professor of psychology at Warwick Business School
      in England, who has published several studies on
      human happiness, called the findings important and,
      in some ways, heartening. "It's a very encouraging
      fact that we can expect to be happier in our early 80s
      than we were in our 20s," he said. "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."

      Dr. Stone, who is a professor of psychology at the
      State University of New York at Stony Brook, said
      that the findings raised questions that needed more
      study. "These results say there are distinctive
      patterns here," he said, "and it's worth some research
      effort to try to figure out what's going on. Why at
      age 50 does something seem to start to change?"

      The study was not designed to figure out which factors
      make people happy, and the poll's health questions
      were not specific enough to draw any conclusions
      about the effect of disease or disability on happiness
      in old age. But the researchers did look at four
      possibilities: the sex of the interviewee, whether
      the person had a partner, whether there were children
      at home and employment status. "These are four
      reasonable candidates," Dr. Stone said, "but they
      don't make much difference."

      For people under 50 who may sometimes feel gloomy,
      there may be consolation here. The view seems a
      bit bleak right now, but look at the bright side:
      you are getting old.
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