Older and Happier?
Wednesday 26 February 2014, by
Some of your may have seen the recent news story about a study (a Gallup poll really) that reported, “Life looks a little rosier after 50, a new study finds. Older people in their mid- to late-50s are generally happier, and experience less stress and worry than young adults in their 20s, the researchers say. “
I’d be interested to know if readers agree. Certainly at the level of basic life stress, young people in college or looking for a job are undoubtedly stressed. It may also be that by the time we are in our 50s we have had a lot of experience with stress, and we don’t experience our stress as stressfully as the young. The study actually mentions this as a possible explanation.
I’m not discounting the truth of the study; it’s just that “happiness” is a notoriously difficult thing to measure or quantify. I like to say that Buddhism is a teaching about happiness, mostly to counter the prevailing misunderstanding that the Buddha taught that “Life is suffering.” That would reduce the Dharma to a bumper sticker: “Life is hard and then you die.”
Probably the fairest thing to say is that some people are happier than others, that happiness in a “hedonic” sense—the study distinguishes this sense of variable happiness from a deeper “global” happiness which seems more related to temperament—varies by age, by gender, and by a great many other things. It is also undoubtedly true that those of us in our 50s think about things (such as aging) that the young don’t think about much.
I’m not sure, in the end, that happiness is the main thing anyway. My teacher liked to distinguish between “happiness” and “contentment,” because contentment is a broader attitude that can accept degrees of happiness and sadness. Someone in pain—whether physical, mental, or emotional—is not necessarily happy, but they could be content, for a variety of reasons. Even grateful.
It’s hard to know the answers to these questions unless you know a person’s whole life.
By Lewis Richmond
Source: Aging As a Spiritual Practice