In today’s world, we’re faced with continual messages about aging. We hear about anti-aging products for your skin and hair just about every day. There are the new exercises to lift and sculpt, cosmetic surgery guaranteed to take 10 years off your face, and supplements to keep you feeling young well into your senior years.
Oh, and don’t forget all the steady reminders of everything that can go wrong the older you get, like diabetes, cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, and dementia.
Is there anywhere we can turn these days that we aren’t being told that getting older is just…well, bad?
We thought it was time to turn the tide a bit. After all, aging is, as the saying goes, a lot better than the alternative!
1. Seniors experience more positive emotions.
According to a Gallup survey of more than 340,000 people in their 70s and 80s, seniors are less troubled by negative emotions like anger, stress, and worry. Research from Stony Brook University in New York also indicates that happiness and well-being grow in later years.
“As people get older, they’re more likely to stop and smell the roses,” said Laura Carstensen, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Stanford University. “We think that has a lot to do with these improvements that we see in emotional health.”
Old age also gives us time to do the things we never had time to do before, which can fill our days with fun and adventure. More time allows many seniors to travel, explore, and spend more time doing the things that really bring them joy. There is also some indication that seniors appreciate the good things in life more than their younger counterparts.
2. Relationships improve.
According to a 2011 study, married seniors are more satisfied and positive about their marriages than younger couples are. Arguments involve less anger, and senior spouses show more positive emotions and affection than middle-aged couples.
It’s not only marriages, however, that benefit in older age. Seniors also seem to be happier with their other social relationships, as well. They have a smaller but closer circle of friends than younger adults, and gain more benefits from these close, emotional bonds.
3. Seniors are smarter.
Researchers at the University of Michigan found that seniors show more wisdom in making choices than their younger counterparts. For the study, nearly 250 participants aged 25 to 93 passed judgments on the outcomes of fictional political disputes. Experts blindly rated their judgments on criteria like seeing other points of view and examining possibilities for conflict resolution and compromise.
The results showed that significantly more seniors ranked in the top 20 percent on wisdom performance, while people with an average age of 65 outperformed younger participants.
More good news—another study found that today’s seniors are even smarter than they were a generation ago. Researchers compared performance on a battery of intelligence tests between a group of contemporary 74-year-olds and another group the same age who took the tests 16 years ago. Results showed that today’s seniors performed better across the board, with the average performance being closer to those 15 years younger than the participants.
“These findings have very interesting implications for the future, especially in terms of employment,” said researcher Elizabeth M. Zelinski, Ph.D. “As a group, older people are more mentally able to keep working beyond retirement age today.”
4. Seniors are more comfortable with who they are.
Gone are the days of trying to wear the latest fashions, cram their feet into three-inch high heels, or worry about whether their outfit is up to speed. Seniors are typically much more comfortable with who they are, and can choose to dress more comfortably. They’ve gone through many challenges in life and learned what they like and what they don’t, enabling them to make better choices day-to-day that honor who they are and what they want.
“Old age allows you to live a life that is freer from the challenges of worldly pursuits, such as ‘keeping up with the Joneses,’ and trying to be cool,” says retired school teacher Johan Smulders. “In younger days this used up a lot of energy and time, but now a calmer spirit dominates my thinking….I can even wear socks with my sandals if I like!”
“Before I was 75, I was tentative about many things,” says Betty Reid Soskin, 89, full-time park ranger. “But now I know my own voice, and most important, I have the confidence to use it.”
“It is a relief when we can begin to overcome feelings of competition,” says psychologist Jonathan Young. “By focusing on our best personal qualities, and favorite current interests, we can find something fulfilling in almost every day.”
5. Seniors feel better, on the whole.
California researchers reported in 2012 that despite any physical and mental challenges, people feel better as they age, not worse. Scientists asked more than 1,000 people aged 50 to 99 to rank how well they were aging on a scale of 1 to 10, and the mean score was a high 8.2—and even higher for those in their 90s.
The results also suggested that the more resilient people are, the better they aged. “I think this should really change people’s outlook about aging,” said Dr. Dilip V. Jeste, a UCSD professor of psychiatry. “Usually when we think about aging, we think it’s bad.”
Other research confirmed these results. Researchers reporting on several studies of aging and mental health found that happiness and well-being improve with time. Older adults learn to avoid or limit stressful situations, and are less likely to let negative comments or criticism bother them.
“We know that older people are increasingly aware that the time they have left in life is growing shorter,” said Susan Turk Charles, a professor at the University of California, Irvine. “They want to make the best of it so they avoid engaging in situations that will make them unhappy. They also had more time to learn and understand the intentions of others, which helps them to avoid these stressful situations.”
Have you experienced other benefits of aging? Please let us know!
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“5 Good Things About Aging,” Consumer Reports on Health, May 2013.
Salynn Boyles, “Today’s Seniors are Smarter,” WebMD Health News, October 5, 2007, http://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/news/20071005/todays-seniors-are-smarter.
JoNel Aleccia, “Good news about aging: Get older, feel better, study finds,” NBC News, December 7, 2012, http://www.nbcnews.com/health/good-news-about-aging-get-older-feel-better-study-finds-1C7488164.
“Good News for Elderly: Happiness Keeps Growing,” US News and World Report, August 13, 2009, http://health.usnews.com/health-news/family-health/brain-and-behavior/articles/2009/08/13/good-news-for-elderly-happiness-keeps-growing.