What age group of adults would you think is the happiest? If most people were to guess, I’d venture to say that they’d assume people in their 20s and 30s are the most content. Why wouldn’t they be, right? They are young and likely healthy; they have their whole life ahead of them, full of potential and exciting events.
If you think young adults have it all, you may be surprised to learn the results of a study conducted out of the University of California-San Diego; the research results were published in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.
Happiness comes with maturity…
The study’s author, Dr. Dilip Jeste, is a geriatric psychiatrist and the director of the university’s Center on Healthy Aging. He and his team of researchers used a random sampling of 1,546 adults in the San Diego area, age 21 to 99.
The subjects in the study underwent a phone interview with a member of the research team and then completed a lengthy survey assessing their physical, cognitive, and mental health. They were asked about their overall happiness and satisfaction with their life. In addition, they were questioned on their stress levels and any depression or anxiety they were experiencing.
It is often assumed that happiness would form a sort of U-shaped curve over the course of life—high in early adulthood, dropping in middle age, and then ticking back up in late life. But this isn’t what the study found.
The researchers discovered that despite potential health issues and physical decline that are often inherent to the aging process, the older research subjects were actually happier overall than the younger adults. Surprisingly, it was those in their 20s and 30s who were found to have the lowest levels of happiness, life satisfaction, and wellbeing, in addition to the highest levels of depression, anxiety, and stress.
Although the study did not follow the research subjects over time to determine if their responses were just a reflection of that moment in time or a more long-term trend with their mental and physical state, it does suggest that overall, people appear to have improved mental health and be overall happier as they mature and age.
>> Related: 4 Ways CCRCs Help Seniors Stay Healthy
Think about it: In your 20s and 30s, you’ve been released into the “real world,” which can be a difficult transition that includes educational and career pressures, romantic turbulence, trying to keep up with the Joneses, and other “adult stuff” like bills and taxes. It becomes clear why it can indeed be a stressful, anxiety-filled time.
Contrast that to older people. With the wisdom gained over the years, they appear to have more emotional stability, self-awareness, and contentment with their stage in life. They have learned to let more things roll off their back, which results in greater happiness.
…But not for all seniors
While this study from the University of California-San Diego is certainly good news when it comes to the overall emotional state of our nation’s older citizens, I don’t mean to suggest that we should assume that all seniors are in their happiest phase of life.
As I’ve blogged about before, there is a “loneliness epidemic” among the elderly, particularly those who live alone, with roughly 40 percent of those seniors saying they often feel isolated—a risk factor that can have a more detrimental impact on health than things like smoking or obesity.
>> Related: The Senior Loneliness Epidemic & Solutions to “Cure” It
CCRCs can help facilitate happiness
Living alone, in and of itself, does not necessarily translate into loneliness, although it is a contributing factor for many. Likewise, surrounding one’s self with lots of people doesn’t always translate into avoidance of loneliness. Ultimately it is about quality of relationships and other factors. Yet, this opportunity to socialize more frequently, develop new friendships, and stay active are among the benefits of living in a retirement community, such as a continuing care retirement community (CCRC, also called a life plan community).
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