One of the biggest myths about aging is that as we get older we are more prone to loneliness and unhappiness. The truth: as we age, older adults view happiness differently than someone in their 20’s or 30’s.
Laura Carstensen, a renowned field expert in the study of aging and director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, has found new correlations between aging and happiness. "I've spent the last thirty years investigating the psychology of aging," Carstensen writes. "My research consistently shows that, in terms of emotion, the best years come late in life.” With age comes wisdom and understanding how to deal with negative emotions better, which can lead to less lingering unhappiness.
Evidence of physical differences between young adults and older adults was illustrated in several studies that monitored both groups’ reactions to disturbing images. Researchers used eye-tracking techniques, which follow participants' eye movements as they view evocative or disturbing images and then rates their reactions with a mood dial.
Derek Isaacowitz, professor of psychology and director of the Lifespan Emotional Development Lab at Northeastern University, also determined older adults tend to manage negative emotions better than young adults and report higher levels of happiness and satisfaction. His research demonstrated that the younger participants actually spent more time looking at the disturbing images, while the elderly looked away sooner. Isaacowitz believes that young people are "looking at the unpleasant parts and crafting a story that will help them understand the story in a way that's less upsetting to them. Older adults short circuit that by not looking at it as much."
Carstensen's research suggests that as we age we tend to live more in the moment and care less about social pressures that can take a hold over young adults. She writes, "As we age we sense the clock winding down and our attention shifts to savoring the time that is left, focusing on depth of experience, closeness, a smaller set of goals and a highly selected group of loved ones. This change in perspective seems to bring with it a new way of evaluating what is worth one's time, attention, worry or wrath."
Savoring the good times in life becomes more important and surrounding oneself with a support network of friends and loved ones can bring clarity and a new perspective on life.