What is happiness?
Happiness is the common goal of every living human on this earth, which makes it the center of all our actions in life. Yet there is a dilemma about who’s really happier – are the young people happier than the older people or the other way around? For all we know, both categories of people deserve to be happy in their entire lifetime, but researchers couldn’t help to wonder who is happier than who. This is why they’ve started a new survey supposed to reveal the ultimate truth: when are the people in their happiest time of their lives – when they are young or when they are old?
Although it may surprise you – or not – older people seem to be happier than they younger adults, even though they lack the physical health or the mental sharpness of the young or middle age adults. Despite this fact, older people have a higher state of psychological well-being, stated the research team that conducted this study on the people who were living in San Diego County, from California.
Even though the subject of measuring happiness makes the majority of us kind of skeptical – I mean, is there a way to truly measure how happy a person is or can be?! – the research team has developed their study across three key factors that they thought to be the most precious things that a person can have and that can bring them happiness. These three key factors were physical health, cognitive health and mental health. Yes, it all begins with the way we look, continues with the way we think and ends with the way we feel – about ourselves, about other people, about everything that is happening in our lives at a certain time. The study about the people’s happiness revealed that the older people had a much better mental health than the young adults or the middle age ones. Another breakthrough discovery was the fact that when young adults are in their 20s or 30s or both, they register the lowest scores from the study in the measures of the psychological well-being, from all the age groups that took part in the study. The study groups included people aged 21 to 99 years old.
Even though that the survey has revealed the fact that people tend to experience a lot of declines in their physical health and also their thinking skills as they grow older, the aging process was also related to a better mental health, a greater happiness and much more satisfaction with life, due to an improvement of the sense of well-being. On the other way around, it seems that people who are older are associated with much less anxiety levels and lower stress, which means a decrease in the risk of depression, a mental condition that can affect one’s mental health. Lots of people think of the process of aging as a period of gloom and boom, which refers to a time in one’s life in which the declines in physical health, happiness and well-being start to appear, but it appears that the study’s results are kind of a paradox, to say the least. The paradox of aging is that while we think that older people lose scores regarding the physical health and cognitive health, the reality is that they compensate or even gain more by having a strong state of well-being and a mental health that makes the young adults envious. Is this because with maturity comes responsibility and happiness? We shall see for each and every one of us.
So, while most young or middle age adults think about the older people in a stereotype – they are old and grumpy most of the times – the study found out precisely the reverse: older people are more happy and contented, satisfied with their own lives as they are.
The study targeted more than 1,500 women and men whose age was between 21-99 and who lived in San Diego County in California. Each and every participant in the study was called by the telephone and given a quick test in order to evaluate their cognitive skills, all during the telephone conversation. What’s more, each participant received and email in which they were presented a written survey, in order for the researchers to be able to gather information about each person’s physical health and psychological well-being. In order to keep a track about the psychological well-being, the adults were asked to rate their levels of depression, stress, anxiety, happiness and life satisfaction.
All the previous researches conducted on the people’s well being during their lifetime have provided mixed results, while others provided a U-shape discovery, stating that people in their 20s and 30s have a higher level of well being, but it is followed by a decline in their middle age – 40s and 50s- which later increases, when they are 60 or 70. This particular study has turned the wheel around, providing a steady improvement in the well being of people across the years. The improvement was obvious in the overall measures of mental health, starting with people aged 20 and leading all the way up to older ages. A conclusion that we can all draw from this point of view, is the fact that aging is a soft, tern process, more like a period of contentment, happiness and satisfaction rather than a time of our lives that is filled with declines in physical health. Maybe older people know that since they’ve got everything they wanted in life, any disease or health condition that may come across is so insignificant because they won’t be able to wash away all the happiness they’ve achieved throughout their lives.
The research team speculated on the fact that older people may adapt more easily or cope more easily with the stressful changes in their lives, unlike young adults, who can’t stand the thought of something going wrong in their lives. Older people’s emotional strengths are the things that help them overcome whatever problems show up in their way, such as their decreasing in the physical health or the declining of the cognitive function. It seems that the fact that people age, does not only make them smarter or wiser, but it also gives them resilience, which is a quality that younger adults do not seem to poses, at least not in such a deeper way. Older people are also better problem solving persons, and regulators of their emotions, unlike the young adults, who only seem to sink deeper and deeper into problems, at least sometimes.
The study’s only limitation seems to be the fact that it only involved people from San Diego, so we can’t know for sure if the results apply to the people nearby or any other persons out there. Among the list of excluded people from the study, there were people who have been diagnosed with dementia, or the ones that lived in a nursing home, people that needed a daily nursing, which makes the results not applicable to these categories of people.
In a nutshell, while young adults seem to have the most higher levels of stress and anxiety during their 20s and 30s, the older people enjoy a life full of wisdom, emotional stability, and high levels of well being and mental health.
While happiness is a goal for us all, only a few people manage to transform it in an option and choose to be more happy and smile every single day, so what are you waiting for?