Cheer up! Old age is on its way

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So it turns out that getting old isn't so bad after all. Why? We actually become happier as we age.

That is according to a new Gallup Poll. The telephone survey, which was conducted in 2008, covered more than 340,000 people nationwide, ages 18 to 85. It asked various questions about age and sex, current events, personal finances, health and other matters. There was also a question about global well-being and asked people to rank life satisfaction on a 10-point scale. Finally, six yes-or-no questions asked people if they experienced certain states of mind—happiness, sadness, etc.—a good part of the day before.

The results, which were published online May 17 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, are good news for those hearing Father Time tick. Regarding the global measure, people feel good about themselves at 18 but then increasingly feel worse. When they hit 50, people keep getting happier as they age. By the time they are 85, they are even more satisfied with themselves than at age 18.

In measuring yesterday's emotional state (or immediate well-being), researchers found enjoyment and happiness both decrease gradually until we hit 50, rise steadily for the next 25 years, and then fall slightly at the end.

The study did not examine which factors make us happy. But here's a theory: Our expectations get lower as we get older. Throughout most of our adult lives, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves in our personal and work lives. We try to care of our families, strive to be successful professionally and personally, and struggle with life choices.  Maybe by the time we hit 85, we think, “What the heck? I am who I am. I've done what I can and this is what I've got.” Also, because we aren't as physically able as we used to be, we feel grateful for what we can do. 

If that's the case, maybe we can take a lesson from octogenarians. Maybe the secret to happiness (or part of it) is to accept ourselves for who we are, enjoy the world around us, and for goodness sake, not take life so seriously.

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McKnight's Daily Editor's Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor on Monday and Friday; Staff Writer Tim Mullaney on Tuesday, Editor James M. Berklan on Wednesday and Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman on Thursday.

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