The Keys to Happiness as We Age

A recent article in The Atlantic by Arthur C. Brooks highlights ways that we can help to ensure happiness as we get older. Brooks is an American musician, social scientist, and professor at Harvard University. He has written many articles and a book on this topic.

In the article, he cites an ongoing study (over 80 years) that traces the attitudes, conditions, and well-being of the subjects over the course of their lives. Here are some fascinating conclusions: 1) Happiness declines through young adulthood into middle-age and bottoms out at about age 50. 2) After that it starts to go up again until about the mid-60s. 3) After that, it can go one of two ways; there are those who get much happier and those who get much more unhappy.

The study makes clear something that should be clear to begin with. The decisions that we make earlier in our lives have an impact on how we will feel later in life. The investments (not just financial) of our earlier years pay dividends–or if we have not invested wisely, we suffer. This is a pretty stark reality, but it is also not 100% accurate. There are those who are born into wealth, who inherit good genes, have tragic accidents, etc., whose lot is determined in large portion by events beyond their control.

There are, however, factors that we can control according to Brooks. All things being equal (which they are not), making the right choices in these realms will yield better results (happiness) in later years. In short, here is the list.

  1. Don’t smoke, and if you do, quit.
  2. Drink in moderation.
  3. Maintain a healthy body weight.
  4. Keep active every day.
  5. Develop coping skills for when life gets challenging.
  6. Never stop learning.
  7. Invest in interpersonal relationships.

Nothing earth-shattering, right? How many of these 7 are we doing right now? Is there time to make a change? Of course! All the research on fitness, shows that it is never too late to make a change, and it will have positive outcomes.

I am the happiest I have ever been. I do what I love with people I love. I put effort into all 7 categories above. I have a few years until I hit my mid-60s, but I am hopeful that I will fall into the “getting much happier” category. I hope you will join me there!

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