Old people are both wise and happy

Empirical research is finding evidence that old people are not only wiser than younger people  (a traditional belief) but also that they are happier too (which may seem counterintuitive):

Contrary to largely gloomy cultural perceptions, growing old brings some benefits, notably emotional and cognitive stability. Laura Carstensen, a Stanford social psychologist, calls this the “well-being paradox.” Although adults older than 65 face challenges to body and brain, the 70s and 80s also bring an abundance of social and emotional knowledge, qualities scientists are beginning to define as wisdom. As Carstensen and another social psychologist, Fredda Blanchard-Fields of the Georgia Institute of Technology, have shown, adults gain a toolbox of social and emotional instincts as they age. According to Blanchard-Fields, seniors acquire a feel, an enhanced sense of knowing right from wrong, and therefore a way to make sound life decisions.

That may help explain the finding that old age correlates with happiness. A study published this year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science found a U-shaped relationship between happiness and age: Adults were happiest in youth and again in their 70s and early 80s, and least happy in middle age. A 2007 University of Chicago study similarly concluded that rates of happiness — “the degree to which a person evaluates the overall quality of his present life positively” — crept upward from age 65 to 85 and beyond, in both sexes.

via Researchers find that wisdom and happiness increase as people grow older.

Read the rest of the article for the details and the evidence that points to these conclusions.  But how can that be?  What about the breakdown of the body, the loss of faculties, the facing of death?  And yet, even as I grow closer to that stage, I can see it.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Lisa

    They don’t have to work anymore and get to enjoy retirement, that would be enough to make me happy!

  • Lisa

    They don’t have to work anymore and get to enjoy retirement, that would be enough to make me happy!

  • http://www.spaceagelutheran.blogspot.com/ SAL

    People who avoid illnesses related to stress and worry are more likely to survive into old age. Those people will tend to dominate the characteristics and behavior we associate with the elderly.

  • http://www.spaceagelutheran.blogspot.com/ SAL

    People who avoid illnesses related to stress and worry are more likely to survive into old age. Those people will tend to dominate the characteristics and behavior we associate with the elderly.

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in 21st Century

    Ah, senility, it is hard to be unhappy when you can’t remember to be unhappy. ;-p

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in 21st Century

    Ah, senility, it is hard to be unhappy when you can’t remember to be unhappy. ;-p

  • Pete

    Dr. Luther @3 – Reminds me of a joke:

    Old guy goes to the doctor.
    Doctor says, “I got bad news – you’ve got cancer and you’ve got Alzheimer’s.”
    Man replies, “Cheer up, Doc – at least I don’t have cancer.”

  • Pete

    Dr. Luther @3 – Reminds me of a joke:

    Old guy goes to the doctor.
    Doctor says, “I got bad news – you’ve got cancer and you’ve got Alzheimer’s.”
    Man replies, “Cheer up, Doc – at least I don’t have cancer.”

  • http://fivepintlutheran.blogspot.com/ David Cochrane

    Where have these “happy” old people been hiding. In my life I have known 3. Two of them were my grandparents and they dont count because I think they were being overly nice to me. The rest seem to be revolting, self centered, complaining who usually think all things should be given to them because they are older.

    I do love and care for these older people in my job but the writer of this report needs to take off the coloured glasses. I understand we are all sinners so I am not surprised of this behaviour.

  • http://fivepintlutheran.blogspot.com/ David Cochrane

    Where have these “happy” old people been hiding. In my life I have known 3. Two of them were my grandparents and they dont count because I think they were being overly nice to me. The rest seem to be revolting, self centered, complaining who usually think all things should be given to them because they are older.

    I do love and care for these older people in my job but the writer of this report needs to take off the coloured glasses. I understand we are all sinners so I am not surprised of this behaviour.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Forgive me, but I can’t help but notice that this study mostly precludes anyone from the Baby Boomers, as they have only recently begun to enter the ranks of the elderly, whether they’ll ever admit that to themselves or not. Will wisdom still be the watchword when that lot comprises the bulk of the elderly? ;)

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Forgive me, but I can’t help but notice that this study mostly precludes anyone from the Baby Boomers, as they have only recently begun to enter the ranks of the elderly, whether they’ll ever admit that to themselves or not. Will wisdom still be the watchword when that lot comprises the bulk of the elderly? ;)

  • Booklover

    My dad must be the exception. Or maybe I should say that if you have your health, it is easier to portray the characteristics mentioned in this article.

    My dad was miserable in his last years. I don’t remember many happy words or looks from him. He was just so unhappy. I think part of it may have been that he was a farmer, a very successful one, and it killed him not to be able to go outside and work. He was just miserable.

    My suggestion for happiness in your last years would be to have other interests outside of your vocation. Dad never did and therefore was so unhappy in his retirement. Mom, on the other hand, is disabled; but she is still able to do bookkeeping for the farm, and she has learned to farm on facebook, which she loves.

  • Booklover

    My dad must be the exception. Or maybe I should say that if you have your health, it is easier to portray the characteristics mentioned in this article.

    My dad was miserable in his last years. I don’t remember many happy words or looks from him. He was just so unhappy. I think part of it may have been that he was a farmer, a very successful one, and it killed him not to be able to go outside and work. He was just miserable.

    My suggestion for happiness in your last years would be to have other interests outside of your vocation. Dad never did and therefore was so unhappy in his retirement. Mom, on the other hand, is disabled; but she is still able to do bookkeeping for the farm, and she has learned to farm on facebook, which she loves.

  • Porcell

    That old people are wise and happy is a pleasant thought for we older folk, though the truth is that a few are and many are not. Some old people achieve wisdom; some are crotchety old fools, and most of us are somewhere in between.

    I pay little attention to this breathless research from the groves of academia.

  • Porcell

    That old people are wise and happy is a pleasant thought for we older folk, though the truth is that a few are and many are not. Some old people achieve wisdom; some are crotchety old fools, and most of us are somewhere in between.

    I pay little attention to this breathless research from the groves of academia.

  • helen

    I find most of my happy older friends in church.
    Of course, I find most of my happy younger friends there, too,
    and they are the ones who keep me happy.

    Speak for yourself, Lisa.
    I got my graduate degree after my children had gotten theirs. I started working for a salary about the time my school mates (undergrad) were retiring. I’m not ready to retire yet, unless they make me.
    (Then, I will probably be unhappy.)

  • helen

    I find most of my happy older friends in church.
    Of course, I find most of my happy younger friends there, too,
    and they are the ones who keep me happy.

    Speak for yourself, Lisa.
    I got my graduate degree after my children had gotten theirs. I started working for a salary about the time my school mates (undergrad) were retiring. I’m not ready to retire yet, unless they make me.
    (Then, I will probably be unhappy.)

  • Pingback: Old People Are Not Only Wiser Than You, They’re Happier Too » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog

  • Pingback: Old People Are Not Only Wiser Than You, They’re Happier Too » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog

  • Lisa

    I did speak for myself, Helen. I said it would be enough to make ME happy!

  • Lisa

    I did speak for myself, Helen. I said it would be enough to make ME happy!


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