Good News about Getting Older
Most people focus on the negative aspects of aging. And I’m probably as guilty as anyone. I often recommend various vitamins and herbs to counter the effects of age. But today, I’d like to do something a little different.
Let’s discuss one of the positive effects of age.
We’ve all heard the proverb “with age comes wisdom.” And experience certainly does count. But maybe that old saying should be “with age comes happiness.” Because it does.
Here’s the story…
Back in 2010, Stanford University scientists wanted to answer a question. Surveys showed that mature adults were happier than younger adults. The question was whether it was because this older generation had grown up in times of rising prosperity… or was there something that made them happier as they got older?
So they traced 180 adults – aged 18 to 94 – for 12 years. Periodically, the volunteers carried pagers for a week at a time. Whenever the pagers went off – randomly – they’d answer a series of questions. (This prevented them preparing answers or having time to think up the “right” answer.)
What the psychologists discovered was that when you were born had no effect. It was age that determined happiness. The older people got, the happier they tended to be.
As people aged, they focused more on what was important to them. Plus, they’ve already experienced most of life’s frustrations and failures. Age, the researchers found, genuinely mellows most people out.1
But it’s not just the passage of time. As you get older, your brain actually begins to change. And in terms of happiness, it’s for the better.
A team at Duke University studied why so many mature adults see the past with “rose colored glasses.” And they discovered something remarkable.
The scientists showed a group of adults from 24 to 70 years a series of pictures. Some of the pictures were bland. Others, however, portrayed negative scenes – such as a snake attacking. During the exercise, the Duke team monitored the viewers’ brain patterns using MRI.
After showing their volunteers the pictures, the scientists gave them a surprise memory test. Younger adults consistently remembered more of the negative scenes than the older volunteers.
This didn’t surprise the scientists. Because the MRI revealed that younger adults had more and stronger connections in the areas of the brain linked to emotion. Older volunteers showed stronger connections in the higher thinking areas.2
Other researchers have discovered our brains handle positive information differently as we age. While we don’t fully understand the process, these changes appear to reinforce your memory for positive events. They also appear to point us towards focusing on the positive.3
And studies show more mature adults tend to focus more on the positive side. Which may help improve their overall mood.4
All this attention to the positive may help explain another benefit of getting older… better relationships.
According to researchers at Purdue University, mature adults consistently report enjoying better social relationships than younger adults.5
Finally, you may be wondering about the “grumpy old men” you hear so much about.
The Stanford researchers have an answer. Most grumpy old men, they say, were grumpy young men. By and large, you can expect to feel happier as you get older.
Yours in good health,
Best Life Herbals Wellness Team
1 Gorlick, A., “Stanford study shows getting older leads to emotional stability, happiness,” Stanford Report. Oct 27, 2010.
2 “Aging Brains Allow Negative Memories To Fade,” ScienceDaily. Dec 20, 2008.
3 Addis, D.R., et al, “There are age-related changes in neural connectivity during the encoding of positive, but not negative, information,” Cortex. Apr, 2010; 46(4): 425-433.
4 Isaacowitz, D.M., “Mood Regulation in Real Time: Age Differences in the Role of Looking,” Current Directions in Psychological Science. Aug 2012: 21(4): 237-242.
5 Fingerman, K.L. and Charles, S.T., “It Takes Two to Tango: Why Older People Have the Best Relationships,” Current Directions in Psychological Science. Jun 2010: 19(3): 172-176.