Emotions and Aging

An article published in the New York Times yesterday discussed the results of a poll looking at the relationship between age and various emotions. Over 340,000 people were interviewed via telephone about their life circumstances and their relationships to various emotions, including happiness, anxiety, sadness and stress. The findings of the poll revealed different trajectories for each of the emotions. Happiness, also referred to as satisfaction with one’s own self, was reported to decline from age 18 until age 50, at which point it increased well into one’s eighties. The researchers speculate that there may be environmental, psychological and/or biological explanations for their findings. Even without explanation, it is refreshing to know that we can feel better about ourselves in our eighties than we did in our twenties.

The findings on sadness complement those on happiness. Sadness was shown to increase until age 50, then decline until age 73, before rising until age 85. In one’s eighties, it sounds as though people can have both more happiness and more sadness than they did in their twenties and much more so than in their fifties.

Stress was shown to decline from age 18 until age 85. Finally, anxiety was shown to stay steady until age 50 and then decline substantially.

One of the findings clearly highlighted in this article is that a lot can change during one’s fifties. The fifties can be the peak of dissatisfaction and worry, before becoming a time of increased satisfaction, and decreased sadness, anxiety, and stress! Assuming that factors such as marital status and employment are controlled for, what else may be going on at this point in one’s life that leaves him/her in a healthier place emotionally than previous decades? Is this a time where life’s big questions are answered and one has a more realistic perspective on life and relationships? If there are adult children, are they at a point where they are taking care of themselves and less reliant on their parents? Are finances less stressful because one has been saving for several years now?  Again, we don’t really know.

The good news is that life can get better as we get older. Since we are continually getting older, there are consistently opportunities to improve our lives. Therapy is a valuable resource for anyone looking to improve their lives regardless of their ages or just cope better until they begin to reap the benefits of their fifties!

Interested in reading the article for yourself? Click here: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/01/health/research/01happy.html?scp=1&sq=happiness%20age&st=cse

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