Every once in a while, we include a non-financial topic in our weekly newsletter because we believe the topic is compelling. This week’s topic focuses on the latest research on happiness and aging. Contrary to the viewpoint that youth is the best time of life, a growing body of research now shows that life gets better as we get older. In fact, peak emotional wellbeing may not be achieved by the average person until well into their 70s. Researchers from Stanford University conducted an experiment where they measured people’s moods and then repeated the experiment with the same people five and ten years later. Their conclusion was participants moods steadily improved as they aged. This was backed up by data from the National Institute of Mental Health, which reports that 8.9% of people ages 18-25 reported a major depressive episode in 2012. The number dropped to 7.6% for those ages 26-49 and dropped again to 5.5% for people over 50. In general, older adults tend to be less anxious, less angry, and better adapted to their circumstances.
A second interesting finding is that older people have closer and more meaningful relationships. The average person is still adding to his or her circle of friends and acquaintances until approximately age 50. They begin to minimize contact with people that they do not feel close to and maximize time spent in meaningful relationships after age 50. “Older adults typically report better marriages, more supportive friendships, and less conflict with children and siblings” according to Karen Fingerman, a professor from the University of Texas, who co-authored a 2004 study on relationships.
There is even good news in the area of memory and problem solving. In general, older brains take more time to process information, but frequently end up with better answers. Some past research on memory and aging is misleading because the tests are designed by scientists who try to minimize the influence of past experience. Outside of a laboratory experiment, however, most of what we do is based on personal experience. Older adults who are tested in familiar situations show few of the deficits that crop up in laboratory tests.
Check out the graph below that shows wellbeing in five categories by age:
(Click to Enlarge)
Final thought: You probably have friends, children, and/or grandchildren who are depressed and/or stressed about their careers, marriages, finances, or a whole host of other issues. Now you can tell them with conviction that things are likely to get better. Is there any thought that is more optimistic than, “The best time of your life is still ahead of you?”