The Aging of Aquarius

According to the calendar, I’m getting happier every day.

The mirror tells me I’m well on my way to contentment. If you believe my white whiskers, I’m downright delirious.

I base these conclusions on a study that shows that people tend to be happier as they get older.

The University of Chicago research project, led by a sociologist named Yang Yang (really), involved periodic interviews with 28,000 people between 1972 and 2004. Overall happiness levels tended to go up and down with good and bad economic times, but older Americans always reported being the happiest age group.

“The good news is that with age comes happiness,” Yang told The Associated Press. “Life gets better in one’s perception as one ages.”

Older people typically have learned to be content with what life has given them, Yang said. In general, the study found, the odds of being happy rose 5 percent with every 10 years of age.

Most Americans reported being “very happy” or “pretty happy” at every age. But a third of those aged 88 reported feeling very happy, compared to only 24 percent of 18-year-olds, the study said.

(What’s most amazing is that researchers found any 18-year-olds who admitted they were “very happy.” I assume the respondents were drunk.)

A separate University of Chicago study found that one reason people in their golden years tend to be happier is that they’re more socially active.

That study found that 75 percent of people aged 57 to 85 engage in one or more social activities each week. Such activities include visiting with neighbors, attending religious services, volunteering or going to group meetings, the AP article said.

Those in their 80s were twice as likely as those in their 50s to do at least one of those activities, the study found.

That’s because people in their 50s (like me) are too danged busy to keep up social connections as we should. Between careers, household chores, family responsibilities and Facebook, we find we’re pretty much booked solid.

Yang’s study found that baby boomers were the least happy group. Naturally. Many of us boomers are still in that stressful mid-life period, and we’ve generally been a bunch of whiners since the get-go.

Researchers say baby boomers haven’t learned to lower our expectations as we get older. We still want it all, even in retirement, and we’re not into the whole growing-old-gracefully thing. This attitude explains many boomer foibles, including annual gym memberships, plastic surgery, “working vacations” and Viagra.

Unless we learn to let go of our achievement-oriented mindsets and accept that life will never be perfect, the researchers said, we boomers could end up as sad, lonely senior citizens. There’s a happy thought.

I plan to embrace getting older. I’ll practice being content. I’ll tamp down my ambitions and try to accept life as it comes. I’ll drive slower and go to bed earlier. I’ll stop throwing away those “invitations” to join AARP.

Most of all, I plan to develop some social connections. I’ll have to rearrange my schedule, but I think I can free up an hour on Thursday afternoons.

Look out, happiness, here I come.

1 comment:

Steve Fischer said...

Sorry, we're all busy Thursdays, getting ready to watch "Survivor."