How Optimistic Are You? It Probably Depends on Your Age

New research reveals we frequently worry about aging. Ironically, as we become older and the effects of aging set in, we tend to become more optimistic about life. 


Many of us worry about getting older. We worry we will miss our youth, or that our health will decline and leave us miserable. Ironically, new research has revealed that the older we become, the more optimistic about life we tend to be. In a recent survey of over 3,000 people, researchers concluded that our level of optimism about life likely depends on our age, and the older we get, the better we feel about our individual lives. 

When it comes to being concerned with aging, youth is fleeting indeed. In the survey, all people above the age of 30 gave aging significant thought. And many were worried that the country is not prepared for a growing senior population. About 71% of all the people surveyed are afraid of losing independence as they age, which could take the form of losing memory, or a lack of money. 

In a very welcome irony, the poll showed that as the difficulties of aging grew nearer, worries tended to fade, and optimism grew in a variety of ways. Concerns about getting older, having worse health, and concerns about age-related illnesses also fell among respondents with the passage of time.

"The younger generation is less optimistic," said Dr. Zia Agha, chief medical officer at the nonprofit West Health, which was involved in the polling. ”Perhaps as they age they will build resilience and they build the capacity that will help them cope better.”

The differences in outlook can be quite striking, depending on the age group. 46% of the polled people in their 30s saw themselves optimistic about aging. Compare that to the 66% of people 70 or older who had that attitude.  

People also saw the quality of their lives improving beginning in their 50s to 60s and going forward. Two thirds of the respondents who were 70 years and older saw their life as excellent or very good, in comparison to about half of those in their 30s who expressed a similar sentiment.

Source: NORC at the University of Chicago

While there was a clear increase in confidence as individuals got older, feeling more financially secure with every decade of age, the poll did notice a period of time when pessimism appears to grow — the dreaded middle-age period as people leave their 30s. But with time, even these feelings tend to become more optimistic. Interestingly, the respondents aged 70+ years were the least likely to worry about age-related health issues, moving to a nursing home, or being in some way disrespected by others, including their families. 

The survey also reflected that as people grow older, their priorities tend to shift. Chief medical officer Dr Agha believes that when people start focusing more on life aspects like spirituality and personal relationships, they receive a boost in happiness even in light of growing physical challenges. 

The top priority for every age group was health but as you can see on this chart, the secondary priorities shifted depending between the decades:

Source: NORC at the University of Chicago

Also notable is that the number representing "old age" is a moving target. About 40% of people in their 30s saw 65 years as the point at which old age kicks in. Older individuals, however, felt differently. Only about 20% of people in their 70s felt they had entered old age upon turning 65. It seems how we imagine getting old to feel, and what it actually feels like, are two substantially different things.  

The poll, conducted by the research organization NORC and the West Health Institute, involved 3,026 adults 30 and above.

--

Related Articles

How does alcohol affect your brain?

Explore how alcohol affects your brain, from the first sip at the bar to life-long drinking habits.

(Photo by Angie Garrett/Wikimedia Commons)
Mind & Brain
  • Alcohol is the world's most popular drug and has been a part of human culture for at least 9,000 years.
  • Alcohol's effects on the brain range from temporarily limiting mental activity to sustained brain damage, depending on levels consumed and frequency of use.
  • Understanding how alcohol affects your brain can help you determine what drinking habits are best for you.
Keep reading Show less

Scientists sequence the genome of this threatened species

If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.

Surprising Science
  • A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
  • It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
  • Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.

If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.

Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.

elephant by Guillaume le Clerc

Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons

13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.

It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.

But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.

John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."

What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.

Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.

Why cauliflower is perfect for the keto diet

The exploding popularity of the keto diet puts a less used veggie into the spotlight.

Purple cauliflower. (Photo: Shutterstock)
Surprising Science
  • The cauliflower is a vegetable of choice if you're on the keto diet.
  • The plant is low in carbs and can replace potatoes, rice and pasta.
  • It can be eaten both raw and cooked for different benefits.
Keep reading Show less