By Norb Rug
When you are old, your body is frequently failing you with aches, pains and health problems. So getting old sucks, right? Wrong. This is when you can go back in your mind and remember all the good times. A study done at Stanford University measuring the feelings of people from ages 18 to 94 found that older people are generally happier than younger ones. Older people constantly reported just as many positive feelings as the younger participants did but they had less negative ones. They also had mixed emotions more often. They didn’t let frustration keep them from being happy. They were choosing to be cheerful even though they had reasons to feel something different.
I don’t understand how younger people can be less happy than older people because young people’s best years are still ahead of them. Much of what we think about aging is mistaken and we have a lot to understand about getting older. We can learn a lot from senior citizens.
Old people understand what makes them feel good and they do it. There are plenty of things we like but we don’t have time for them when we are younger. There are people we love and we don’t create time to see them. Older people don’t have the interruptions of making a living so they have time to do what they like. I like seeing my family and writing. Writing comes as a total surprise to me because I hated writing, often finishing up my assignments and compositions on the bus on the way to school. Now writing is my passion.
Older folks unquestionably miss out on some new things, but if your aim is to be happy, then do what you know will work for you. Older people, knowing they have a limited time left, can focus on the things that give them pleasure in the moment. Seniors spend a little less time with all that is new and shiny by choice and a little more time with what has always made them happy. Young people, with still a lot of life to live, tend to seek out new experiences that might have a longer payoff.
Young people think they would be happy if every bad thing in the world disappeared but that’s just impossible. Older people know there will always be a challenge in life, but they accept that and have learned how to get past it.
Research has indicated that being grateful for what you have really makes us happy. If we step back from taking things for granted and appreciate what we have, we just might be happier. It’s not about having what you want, but wanting what you have.
The astonishing thing about feeling contented is that all it takes is a change in your outlook. You can feel it now if you want. So don’t wait on good news from your oncologist to begin to feel happy. I’ve had cancer three times and still feel thankful every morning when I wake up. I don’t dwell on the negatives in my life.
“Find your purpose.” It doesn’t get much simpler than that but the stronger your purpose is in life, the more enjoyable it is. If you haven’t found anything you’re passionate about, something that drives you forward, find something right now. Researchers have long observed that older people who feel a sense of purpose in their lives tend to live longer, fuller, and healthier lives than people who don’t. There is something unique that happens in old age. When you are goal oriented, having a passion, having purpose helps you out in your senior years.
Keeping friends around could also extend your life. There are a number of reasons why women live longer than men. A research study that monitored 1,500 California residents for eighty years found that widowed women tended to prosper. Widowed men, on the other hand, tended to go quickly after the death of their spouse. A big reason this might be is women are usually much better about having a good social circle. Make those friendships now. Don’t just invest in your retirement fund but invest in your relationship fund, you will be happier now and you will be happier later. I still maintain a good friendship with a buddy from junior high school. Even now, despite the fact that we are both in our seventies, we still go out about once a month.
Many seniors don’t talk much about work and those possessions they once had, very often. They don’t seem to matter much anymore. “I wish I spent more time at work.” Said no one ever. The things that older people did that they found joy and pride in was their families, their hobbies and their relationships. The good news is that it’s not too late. People at any age can learn to form a purpose in life. Part of it is sitting down and asking yourself how do I want to be remembered. As a good husband and father? Sure. As a person of integrity who was true to their word? Of course. As someone who loved and was loved back? Unquestionably. But it goes beyond that. Find out what inspires you now, nurture it and you will reap the benefits later. Don’t have a hobby, have a passion. I always said, with my last breath, I wanted to say, “I had fun.”