Old Age Brings Happiness: Why Sixty is the New Twenty

Older people are actually happier than younger people.

One of the things that people dread the most is getting old, and the idea that the best years of your life are over or that you're on the downslope. I think that's really scary and really depressing for a lot of people.

I have a chapter about that in my book, The Myths of Happiness, and I think it's really important for all of us to understand what the research shows about aging. I think one of the findings that people are surprised about is that older people are actually happier than younger people.

The youngest people, teenagers, people in their 20s, are the least happy bunch. There's a lot of uncertainty and you are forming your identity and you're not really sure who you are.  You might not have the confidence that you have when you're older.  But the surveys show that people tend to get happier as they get older and that peak happens fairly late.  It sort of depends on the study but generally in your 60s and some studies show in the 70s.  And then after that people do get less happy for some obvious reasons, such as health and your friends passing away.

But I think that's a really great lesson that old age actually can bring happiness.  Now why are older people happier?  I think one of the main reasons is when we're older we're emotionally wiser.  They're less likely to take risks.  They're less likely to want to meet new people, for example. 

One of my favorite studies asks people if you could have lunch with your favorite author or your best friend, or your sister, who would you rather have lunch with and younger people invariably say my favorite author. Older people say someone who they are familiar with, someone who they really love spending time with.  They take fewer risks and they're more likely to spend time with people who make them happy.  They avoid people who make them unhappy.  Older people for various reasons seem to have what's called the positivity bias.  So they tend to be more positive.  They pay more attention to positive information than to negative information.

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Why American history lives between the cracks

The stories we tell define history. So who gets the mic in America?

  • History is written by lions. But it's also recorded by lambs.
  • In order to understand American history, we need to look at the events of the past as more prismatic than the narrative given to us in high school textbooks.
  • Including different voices can paint a more full and vibrant portrait of America. Which is why more walks of American life can and should be storytellers.
Keep reading Show less

Juice is terrible for children. Why do we keep giving it to them?

A glass of juice has as much sugar, ounce for ounce, as a full-calorie soda. And those vitamins do almost nothing.

Pixabay user Stocksnap

Quick: think back to childhood (if you've reached the scary clown you've gone too far). What did your parents or guardians give you to keep you quiet? If you're anything like most parents, it was juice. But here's the thing: juice is bad for you. 

Keep reading Show less

Orangutans exhibit awareness of the past

Orangutans join humans and bees in a very exclusive club

(Eugene Sim/Shutterstock)
Surprising Science
  • Orangutan mothers wait to sound a danger alarm to avoid tipping off predators to their location
  • It took a couple of researchers crawling around the Sumatran jungle to discover the phenomenon
  • This ability may come from a common ancestor
Keep reading Show less