New Research Says Getting Old is the Key to Happiness

In a surprising find which turns today’s social attitudes about aging on its head, it seems that the happiest Americans are also the oldest.

So rock stars and teenagers, move over. The real key to happiness is not youth, but age. How so? Well, it turns out that the stereotype of the lonely, homebound senior citizen is not true. Today older adults happen to also be quite active socially, and those two things are inseparable. Being social is what makes one happy, at any age.

“The good news is that with age comes happiness,” said study author Yang Yang, a University of Chicago sociologist. “Life gets better in one’s perception as one ages.”

Yes, life can still be stressful for older people. Aches and pains become part of life, friends and loved ones pass away. But maturation leads people to feel more content with what they have, especially compared to younger people.

According to Linda George, an expert on aging from Duke University, older people have learned to lower their expectations about life. They accept their achievements and do not always ask themselves why they didn’t win a Nobel prize. Being a schoolteacher was just fine.

Yang’s research also found that baby boomers were the least happy population. “There is a chance that they will end up living that sad, lonely stereotype of aging if they can’t unburden themselves of their achievement-driven mind-set,” said George.

“They still seem to believe that they should have it all,” George added. “They’re still thinking about having a retirement that’s going to let them do everything they haven’t done yet.”

Cornell University sociologist Elaine Wethington says that according to other research, mid-life is the most stressful time of life. “Everyone’s asking you to do things and you have a lot to do. You’re less happy because you feel hassled.”

But the new study shows that “if you can make it through that,” then there is a happy outcome on the other side, Wethington said.