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.]