Having reached the age of 83, I have learned first-hand about the process of aging. Looking back on my life, I realize that the time went swiftly, and I somehow was given the means to soldier on whereas companions of the same age have long since passed away.
I can name several factors that have contributed to my long life, such as good genes, education, a caring family, proper nutrition, good sleeping habits, financial security, mental and spiritual stimulation, intellectual curiosity, access to medical care, and lack of stress. On the other hand, I have known people with comparable characteristics who did not make it.
This set of circumstances has led me on a quest to research the aging process for my own enlightenment as well as to make a contribution to the knowledge of others. I have learned a great deal.
The fastest-growing segment of the total population of our country consists of those 80 and over. Their growth rate is twice that of those 65 to79 and almost four times that for the total population. In the United States, the group over 80 will more than triple from 5.7 million in 2010 to over 19 million by 2050.
When I was a child, anyone over 50 years old behaved as an aged person, sitting in a rocking chair, viewing the world as it passed by. Today, persons as old as eighty exercise twice as much as previous generations. They bike, hike, swim, sail, and ski, play softball and basketball. They move to the mountains, beaches, islands, and college towns where the physical and intellectual action is. They defy the thinking that they are ready for the compost heap. This dramatic increase in senior enjoyment and life expectancy is not accidental. It is the direct result of modern methods of infectious disease knowledge control, public health services, and new medical and surgical techniques.
Senior citizens readily report the satisfactions they experience in their post-retirement years up through their nineties. They love that they have more time to spend with their family, they develop new hobbies, they enjoy not having to go to work each day. They have more time to travel and to do volunteer work. All of these factors contribute to a happiness that escaped them when they were young and struggling.
A close look at today’s physically and intellectually active younger generation indicates that tomorrow’s elderly citizens will be better educated, healthier, more culturally literate and more astute consumers. They will continue to lead active lifestyles with the perks of flexible working hours, continuing education, travel opportunities, and prospects for companionship.
A recent survey showed that half of all elderly citizens expect to work at least part-time once they retire. And they want to have offices in their homes with high speed internet connections for their computers, which 40 percent of them already own.
Four main factors contribute to making people happy. They can be classified under gender, personality, external circumstances and age.
Most people are aware that women live longer than men. However, many do not realize that studies have confirmed that women have been found to be slightly happier than men.
Neurotic people - those who are prone to guilt, anger and anxiety - tend to be unhappy. Extroverted people tend to be happier people. Those who like working in teams and who love parties tend to be happier than those who work alone in closed offices in the daytime and stay home alone in the evenings.
Circumstance: Relationships, education, income and health, shape the way we feel. Being married may contribute to one’s happiness, while being unemployed is a bit of a downer. In America, being black used to be associated with lower levels of happiness. Surprisingly, the most recent research suggests that being black or Hispanic today is associated with greater happiness. People with children in the home are less happy than those without children. Educated people are happier unless income is factored in; if a less educated person has a high income, that effect disappears. Happiness grows to a greater extent after middle age. Older people are better at controlling their emotions, better at accepting misfortune, and less prone to anger. Happiness also makes people healthier, which makes a lot of sense. Religion plays a far bigger part in the lives of older adults than younger adults.
Even though older people gradually lose their vitality, mental sharpness and looks, they gain what they have spent their lives seeking: happiness. Contrary to what we’ve all heard, you might actually sleep better the older you get. Older people usually feel a lot younger than they really are. Negative emotions become less pronounced than in our younger years. Certain parts of the brain actually improve with age. The older you get the better able you are to problem solve and understand arguments. Judgment also improves with age, as well as the ability to make financial decisions.
I can certainly attest to the accuracy of these findings. If you manage to keep your mental faculties, a long life will bring intense happiness and satisfaction.