Despite the television and movie cliché of the grumpy old person there’s a fair amount of research that shows people get happier as they age.
Laura Carstensen from the Stanford Center on Longevity says, “As we age, our time horizons grow shorter and our goals change. When we recognize that we don’t have all the time in the world, we see our priorities most clearly. We take less notice of trivial matters. We savor life. We’re more appreciative, more open to reconciliation. We invest in more emotionally important parts of life, and life gets better, so we’re happier day-to-day.”
Experts say there are three key ways that older adults can cultivate happiness:
Choosing and fostering “good relationships”
The results of the longest study of human life point to the top factor that leads to happiness as we age: good relationships. And friendships are more important than family relationships for older adults.
So what kind of friendships are most important?
Think about how you feel when you’re with your friends. Do they energize you or drain you? Are you excited to spend time with them, or dreading it? Consider spending more time with those people who make you feel good.
It’s also recommended to have a “bouquet” of friends – some older, some younger, some the same age. It’s great to share memories with contemporaries, but you can also find joy in learning and experiencing new things with older and younger friends.
There are also three different kinds of friends researchers recommend:
- Neighbors and others who provide practical help when we need it—driving us to the airport or picking up groceries when we’re sick, for example
- Confidants whom we can talk honestly with about our feelings and explore what’s really going on
- Friends who are fun to be with and whom we can do things with
Ask for help
We’ve all heard the adage, “It’s better to give than to receive.” With friendships, both giving and receiving are important. However, even in our closest relationships, giving help is often easier than accepting help. It’s important moving into retirement to work on being able to accept help.
Many people aren’t certain what they want to do with their lives after retirement. This can be a place to look for help – gather a small group of friends to meet on a regular basis to discuss issues in your lives and talk about dreams for the future.
Also, sometimes people can’t see their own strengths and interests. Talking with friends may give you ideas you never considered, such as writing a memoir, getting involved with a local organization, or volunteering for a political campaign.
Take on responsibility
One of the perks of growing older and retiring is fewer deadlines and personal responsibilities. But that doesn’t mean you still shouldn’t have things to do.
One study of elderly nursing home residents showed that “more choices, more decision-making possibilities, and more responsibility raise the level of happiness in older people.” The key is to only take on responsibilities that you enjoy and to say no to other requests.
For example, driving your kids to doctor appointments may have been a stressful activity when you were younger and working, but offering to pick up your grandkids from school once a week may be something you look forward to. If you enjoy an activity like sewing or pickleball you might love the responsibility of setting up a sewing group or a pickleball tournament.
The truth about happiness as we age
This isn’t to say if you just do “the right thing” you’ll be happy all the time – no one is happy all of the time. It’s all about building a strong group of people and a foundation of well-being. That’s the way to set yourself up for happiness as you age and happiness is such a big part of a great life!
Written by Michelle O’Brien, Manager of Marketing & Communications