Forget what you’ve heard about the quality of life decreasing as you age.
While it’s a common assumption that aging leads to depression, decreased cognitive abilities and distress, that turns out to be false. New research supports a much better reality, suggesting that people are actually happier as they age. In fact, the older you get, the better you’ll feel about your life. Here are just some of the reasons you’ll be happier when you’re 70.
1. Your marriage will probably be better.
Studies show that marriages improve as people age. University of California, Berkeley conducted a research study in which 156 middle-aged and older couples shared their marital ups and downs on. What they found was that marriages get better with time. Once you hit that 15 year mark there’s a mutual love, respect and support for each other.
As they got older, many of the couples started to wholeheartedly accept each other.
2. Your friendships will deepen.
When most people think of old age they also tend to think of loneliness. Well, it turns out that’s just another myth. Recent studies by Professor Karen Fingerman, a professor of human development an family sciences at the University of Texas at Austin, show that older individuals report having more supportive friendships.
The reality is that up until about age 50, people are more concerned with growing their social networks rather than nurturing relationships. After 50, they would much rather maximize the relationships they already have. In fact, they tend to get rid of those relationships they don’t feel so close to and focus instead on enjoying real connections.
3. You won’t be so hard on yourself.
Another major shift that happens as we age is that we are no longer so hard on ourselves. As Jonathan Raunch writes in his groundbreaking article, The Real Roots of a Midlife Crisis, “In my own case, however, what seems most relevant is a change frequently described both in popular lore and in the research literature: for some reason, I became more accepting of my limitations.”
New research can back this up. The pioneer behind a Stanford Study, Laura Carstensen, discovered that as people age they set goals which are more realistic for them to pursue. It’s as if the pressure to set overly high expectations for yourself fades away.
This may seem like a discouraging thing, but it’s actually not. Hannes Schwandt, an economist at Princeton’s Center for Health and Wellbeing, found that in youth we’re quick to overestimate our future satisfaction. When reality sets in, we become disappointed. However, as you age you tend to underestimate your future satisfaction, which leads to pleasant surprises and happiness.
4. You find satisfaction in other things besides work.
When people are younger, one of their main focuses lies in work. They tend to put a lot of value on achievement, and throughout most of their lives people assume that achievement is found in their careers.
As we age, our values shift. We go through emotional changes that allow us to see life a bit differently. The Stanford University study found that “the peak of emotional life may not occur until well into the seventh decade.”
One hypothesis points to the fact that as people age they realize their time is limited. This causes them to shift focus to the things that are most important to them and, in turn, leads to more satisfaction in their lives.
5. Depression is unlikely as you age.
One very common misconception about aging is that people become more prone to depression. While studies and surveys from the past do seem to show this, we now realize that the research did not account for an individual’s life events.
In a study published by Psychological Science, researchers at Florida State University College of Medicine wanted to see if differences reported in happiness among generations – in this case middle aged versus elderly – were related to factors having nothing to do with age, but rather life circumstances they experienced.
This suggests that previous researched wrongly attributed decline to old age when it really had more to do with life events. Much of the sample size from the past lived through the difficulties of the Great Depression, and World War I and II – all, of which, severely affected how they perceived their quality of life.
6. You could experience a creative peak.
Creativity is often associated with the young, but looking back at history it seems that some of the greatest creative thinkers didn’t create their best works until well past middle age. David Galenson, a professor at University of Chicago, analyzed the ages of 300 artists, poets, writers and other creative folk. He found was that there seem to be two kinds of creatives. Those who do their best work in their 20s and 30s (conceptual artists) and those who do their best work much later in life (experimental artists).
“There are neuro-circuitry factors that can favor age in terms of innovation,” observes Dr. Gary Small, professor of psychiatry and director of the UCLA Center on Aging. The ability to discern patterns actually increases with age. He states that an aging brain can “better tease out patterns and see the big picture. The capacity for empathy is a also a mental and emotional capacity which is learned and refined as we age. These increased abilities to see patterns and to feel empathy stimulate creativity.
Creativity may, in fact, increase but it may have different characteristics than that experienced earlier in life.
7. You’ll make wiser choices.
Perhaps one of the biggest fears people have about aging is losing their cognitive abilities. While it’s true that as you age your brain structure changes (and while it’s true that after 30 scores on tests of abstract reasoning tend to decline), this doesn’t necessarily reflect in cognitive skills.
On the contrary, older generations have better skills in the real world than younger generations. According to some studies they also tend to make wiser decisions. Maybe written tests become more difficult, but what’s tested may not be what’s actually needed in real life circumstances.
Standard tests tend to be designed in a way that minimize the use of past experience. But according to University of Virginia psychology professor Timothy Salthouse, in the real world most of our actions in any given situation are based upon past experience. Therefore, the older you are and the more experience you have, the more likely you are to make better choices.
Final thoughts on growing older:
What this new research suggests is that most of what we think about aging is wrong. Rather than being filled with struggle and strife, which is the story that much of the media perpetuates, it’s actually set up to be some of the best years of your life.
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