On Concentration (Again) and Handwriting
This Week in Elder News: 21 June 2008

Old and Happy

category_bug_journal2.gif From the University of Queensland School of Psychology in Australia, comes a new study reporting that old people are generally happier than younger ones. This confirms previous research and adds some new explanation:

"One possible reason is that they are a lot more positive in general than younger adults," [Professor Bill von Hippel] said.

"Or the gradual shrinking of the amygdala, an organ in the brain which controls negative emotions such as fear and anger, may be slowly releasing older people from life's daily stresses."

- Sydney Morning Herald, 17 June 2008

Although amygdala shrinkage sounds a bit ominous (and my internal Crabby Old Lady notwithstanding), this has been so for me for quite a while. As we liked to say a few decades ago, I don't sweat the small stuff" much - particularly personal small stuff - in my old age, and I sometimes wonder how I got so wound up over trivia in the past.

Young people, reports von Hippel, have on average twice as many social engagements as elders, but both groups are satisfied, although:

"Those under 30 were more likely to recall socialising's down side. After a cinema outing, for example, 'the young say it was such a hassle finding parking or that 'I didn't like the ending', the professor said. Older adults were just happy to be out with friends. 'When asked about having friends over for dinner, younger adults say it's more of a hassle than the older ones, who say it is uplifting.'"

Professor von Hippel has not yet reached elder status and this is a telling comment in regard to judgments the young make about the old:

"Older people seem better at taking life as it comes. We forget that older people are good at this. We look at our grandparents and say, 'They are not getting out much, they must be dissatisfied with life."' [emphasis added]

von Hippel's apparent surprise at the satisfaction elders have with their social lives is an example of the common assumption that youth is the gold standard of life and if old people aren't behaving like the young, they must be miserable.

I suppose it's important to collect data through controlled experiments to confirm or disprove theories, but sometimes I wonder how the results would differ if approached from the direction that old people's experience is the norm.

(Hat tip to Peter Tibbles and to Susan of Suzzwords)

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marvin Waldman weaves an adult tale of damaged lives in Fast and Furious.]

Comments

I am more content now than at any time in my life. I think there are many reasons for this. Our priorities change as we end the responsibilities of raising children, keeping a job, etc. As the stress that accompanies those priorities leaves, we are able to relax.

Some of the need of the young to have an active social life is to forget, for a short time, the stress of daily living.

Part of the reason I no longer crave an active social life is that it requires too much effort to get ready and I am happier staying home with a good book wearing comfortable clothes.

I think you're onto something there. I know that my idea of a good time is just about the reverse of my youngest daughter's (in her early 20's). I suspect part of the reason why I am so content is that I no longer have to reconcile what I want to do with what anyone else feels like doing.

I think as we get older we know what we want and so we don't worry so much about a missed opportunity. We don't have that grass is probably greener syndrome. We have tried many things and we know what works for us.

I have chosen not to let feelings of guilt, responsibility, or social pressure dictate how I spend my limited leisure time. Age has given me the confidence to be myself.

Could not think of much to add to comments. I agree with Darlene and Tabor.
I am more content at this time then ever before.
It is a good place.
Seems when we are younger there is always a big "want list".
Always something we think we have to do immediately.
Finally have learned the grass is not greener somewhere else.
Finally I can just be me.
Guess what
I like me.

The last line in the Sydney newspaper article caught my attention.

"If your spouse survives to be with you...they [the older years] can be the best time of your life."

I think believing one must have a spouse or partner to have "the best time of their life" is a false assumption. I know quite a few older single adults who would dispute that assumption.

I do recall many years ago being startled to overhear a person's response to a friend who was verbally expressing sympathy over that person's spouse's death and saying how dreadful life would likely be from now on. The living spouse quickly corrected the friend, saying it would be quite to the contrary, then elaborated none too favorably on the marriage to the surprised friend.

We don't often hear expressed the possibility that for a number of older people being alone does not prevent their experiencing those years as the best time of their life. This doesn't always indicate failure to value the life with a spouse/partner no longer present. Life is simply different. Happiness comes in many forms.

I wonder if we can compare single life versus living with someone -- apples and oranges? I think some prefer living with a life companion, some don't.


I don't waste time anymore lamenting on the would've, should've, could've of my life. I celebrate my new journey because God is keeping me here for a reason. I still have more work today. I ain't noways tired yet!

Research on life satisfaction has long shown that satisfaction rises into young adulthood, dips when kids come along, and rises again as kids get older and leave. This is confirmed in both longitudinal and cross-sectional studies.

On a personal note, my happiness is at a high point in my life. What's not to like? No work (retirement). More money than I ever had (lifetime of savings). Best physical shape of my life.

So, every day is a blank canvas. The resources of body, mind and bank account are there to color it.

Ron

Given the alternative, old, as in 90, can't be other than what passes for happy. I think the word might be closer to resigned. It takes energy to be happy, and whose got the energy?

A girl called me elderly the other day..well what she said was, "I didn't know elderly people like you knew how to use the Internet"....ummm...yeah,,,I have several blogs,,,things up on utube,,I manage several groups...have a fan site for my DH and a songwriter friend of mine,,pay all my bills online...by this time she was staring at me like she couldn't believe it..LOL....yeah, we do get around a lot, even when we are an elderly 63...I think I am a lot more active than this girl and a lot happier.

Some Thoughts on Elder Porn

I read the Time article on the 74 year old Japanese fellow who is a star in what was described as a growing elder porn biz there.

Forgive me for dissecting this. I was a university prof for 32 years and we profs can take the fun out of anything. But....

Part of me said "Hurray for you, guy". I had the same reaction recently after reading a book called Leisureville, that highlighted the amount of sexual activity at a major retirement community in Florida.

Then I remember the journalism people twittering a while back over the story that the most common medications at one retirement community somewhere were for sexually transmitted diseases. Speaking as one who is glad that most of his youthful exuberance was over before AIDS came along, I hope age brings caution, the above story notwithstanding. Seems to me we have enough ailments already.

And then I read in Time that his wife and daughter don't know about Mr. 74 and what he does, and I wonder a bit about marital fidelity. And at 74 I wonder if he has anything left for his wife after a day on the set.

I have a friend who is 57 and part of a large online operation that allows connections via webcams. A patron pays a ridiculous fee like $3 a minute or more, they link up their webcams, and she says and does what is wanted, the patron can view and hear here, and she can view and hear the patron doing what he/she wants to do.

I asked her if that was prostitution. Let me add quickly that I am not a heavy duty moralist, and this is not about judgment. Anyhow, she said no, because there is no touching. Technically that is correct. Anyhow she says that business is good, although very competitive as there are many women over 50 involved in the same operation.

Her patrons are consenting adults. I suppose so are the patrons of Mr. 74. What about the spouses/signficant others of those patrons. I doubt that most of those are consenting. It does not appear that Mr. 74's wife is consenting.

Elder passion? Yes, yes and yes.
Elder adventure? why not?
Maintaining elder self esteem? I say yes to that as well.

Do we do ourselves honor when we sneak around? I wonder about that.

Told ya....a psych prof can squash the life right out of an interesting idea. Sorry.

Ron

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