Nobody looks forward to getting older, but maybe we should! Did you know that the older we get, the happier we become1?
Although it may be disheartening to look different and feel less vigorous than you once did, take solace in the fact that your later years may be some of the happiest of your life; they just may not be what you expect them to be!
Research shows that young people associate happiness with excitement, while older people connect it with peacefulness2. This is the issue that many young people struggle with: they assume that happiness is excitement, when in fact it's only one way of experiencing it.
Indeed, just because older people don’t appear to have many thrills in their daily lives doesn't mean that they aren't happy.
Younger people have most of their lives ahead of them. Therefore, they tend to seek novelty and new ideas that will be useful in the future. For example, happy young people may find themselves socializing with lots of people, trying several sports or hobbies, or discovering new music each day. There's nothing wrong with excitement, but you may find that feelings of relaxation and serenity are a stronger and more stable foundation on which to be happy. Luckily, as we age, this shift in how we experience happiness occurs naturally.
Older people have a relatively limited period of time left in their lives. They seek comfort and satisfaction, so they invest in relationships that they already have. Rather than going out to nightclubs, older people generally prefer to spend time in intimate conversation and eating a quiet dinner with family because such activities bring them inner joy.
If you want to find happiness in feelings of peace and tranquility, you don't have to wait until your later years. Research shows that people instructed in a brief mindfulness meditation exercise associate happiness with peacefulness, regardless of how old they are2. Whether you are a young person seeking happiness through a more stable state of mind or an older person hoping to feel good through tranquility and peace, learning to focus your attention on the present moment is a promising avenue to do so.
Whenever you spend time with someone much older or younger than you, consider the differences in how each of you experiences happiness. Your idea of fun may not be the same as his or hers. Even if it may not be your ideal choice, find an activity that the other person will find enjoyable or, better yet, plan a day that has elements of both peacefulness and excitement. Perhaps begin with a leisurely stroll through a serene park, followed by some shopping in a bustling marketplace.
1. Mroczek, D. K., & Spiro, A., III. (2005). Change in life satisfaction during adulthood: Findings from the Veterans Affairs Normative Aging Study. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 88, 189-202. 2. Mogilner, C., Kambar, S. D., Aaker, J. (2011). The shifting meaning of happiness. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 2, 395-402.
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