The good life begins at fifty claims a new report which found that this was the start of the happiest time of our lives.
By Richard Alleyne, Science Correspondent of the UK’s Telegraph Online.
Stress, anger and worry fade after the landmark birthday when we begin experiencing greater daily joy than younger adults, it is claimed.
Despite increased risk of death and disease, it seems that people worry less and that they ignore the negatives and accentuate the positives.
Dr Arthur Stone, a psychologist of Stony Brook University, New York, said the findings were “striking”.
“You would think as chronic illness threatens life would get worse but that is not the case because people don’t focus on the threats,” he said.
“They focus on the good things in life like family and friends.”
A survey of more than 340,000 people published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found overall feelings of wellbeing improve as we pass middle age.
The researchers found positive and negative emotions varied with age similarly in both sexes – although women reported greater stress, worry and sadness at all ages.
Stress and anger reduced after people reached their early 20s with worry declining after the age of fifty.
Variables such as having young children, being unemployed, or being single did not affect age-related patterns of well being.
The research showed that levels of stress, worry and anger all dropped significantly in the fifties and levels of happiness and enjoyment increased.
The only feeling that remained constant was that of sadness. Overall feelings of well being increased in the fifties all the way up to the eighties, it was discovered.
The US participants answered yes-or-no questions regarding whether they had experienced enjoyment, happiness, stress, worry, anger and sadness during a large portion of the day prior to the call.
Researchers said the results are consistent with earlier research suggesting increased “wisdom” and emotional intelligence with age – at least through middle age.
Older people also have an increased ability to self-regulate their emotions and view their situations positively and recall fewer negative memories than younger adults.
The researchers said: “They are also in accord with a ‘positivity effect’ wherein older people recall fewer negative memories than younger adults and with the possibility older adults are more effective at regulating their emotions than younger adults.”
Previous studies have shown increased life expectancy and widespread early retirement has created a much greater emphasis on “quality of life” among men and women in their fifties.
The consequence is instead of settling down to a stereotyped “jumpers and slippers” existence by the fireside many now pursue a vigorous social life in search of personal fulfilment.
Many more fiftysomethings see themselves as young and are adopting hedonistic attitudes as they imitate younger ways of living.
The findings back up those of a British study that showed that happiness is U-shaped over life, being at its highest in the young and old and bottoming out in middle age.
This was thought to be because people begin to accept their limitations in their later life and were just happy to be alive.